One part of Julia Cameron’s course “The Artist’s Way” is an assignment not to read for a week. The week I did my “not-reading”, I made an exception for traffic signs. What I noticed that week, though, was how hard it is to avoid the written word. There’s an incredible amount of it out there.
When I was a child and dreamed of being a writer, what I thought I would write was fiction and poetry. More to the point, when I spoke of a life as a writer, the people around me, and I’m talking about the adults, here, immediately said that you couldn’t make a living in writing.
The thing is, we were surrounded by non-fiction writing; magazines, newspapers, textbooks, cereal boxes, advertising – okay, maybe some of that was fiction. But someone wrote that stuff and got paid for it. Yet in the face of this – in the face of so much writing that I was hard put to avoid it – we have this notion that you can’t live on writing.
At the beginning of the year I set a goal for myself; I said I’d sell six non-fiction articles in 2011. Before the month was out I doubled that goal, and I doubled it again to twenty-four in March. To date I’ve sold nineteen articles, and I have a biweekly blog at Pet Product News that takes me well over my current goal. When I last met with my business-of-writing group, the consensus was that I’d better up my goal again, and they weren’t going to let me away with doubling it, either.
“Better make it at least sixty,” Gordon said.
I’m finding that the more articles I pitch, the easier it is to think of articles to pitch. I see story ideas more often than I used to. I’m beginning to think in terms of non-fiction as well as fiction. It’s interesting and satisfying to develop this new skill, and to find that it’s one people are willing to pay for.
I used to think of non-fiction strictly in terms of journalism and reporting. I was wrong. I just finished the second draft of a book-length memoir based on my life as a shepherd. I’ve been writing personal essays for years, most recently submitting them to appropriate titles at Chicken Soup for the Soul. My new blog, North by NorthEast, is based on my experiences in the retail pet trade, and if you think I’ll have to make up the humourous bits, think again.
There’s an art to writing good, readable non-fiction. I’ve read narratives of daily experiences that had me rolling on the floor or sparking with new insights, and I’ve read accounts of harrowing events that made me yawn. Some how-tos make you eager to try your hand, and others scare you off. This year has been a great education in non-fiction, good and bad, and its place in our world and in my life as a writer.
Incidentally, I believe that the advice I gave about fiction writing is equally applicable to non-fiction. You need to write, to know your tools and your craft, to get good feedback, research your markets and persist, persist, persist.
I’m looking forward to seeing where non-fiction will take me this year. I’ll keep you posted.