I’ve been writing for a long time now. I’ve been reading even longer. The joy of reading is so easy, like boarding a train for a beautiful adventure.
Writing is different. It’s more like BUILDING a train. Or at the least a little wagon to take the readers on a journey. That’s harder.
So I’ve done what I can to learn the best practices and skills of building a story wagon. There are a lot of things to know, and methods and techniques to follow to achieve a desired result. I’ve learned a few things about what’s under the hood in a book
The book that took me the longest to write, The Russian American School of Tomorrow, is a memoir. It’s a very special form of non-fiction.
I found this definition from Hoover library talking about fiction vs. non-fiction:
See? Is my memoir my imagination or fact? Are my memories of events facts?
See what the Hoover Library says about nonfiction? It’s the broadest category of literature. It’s a super powerful form of writing. To learn and understand how things work, and how people did things in the past or what they are thinking right now about how to do things in the future.
People are very picky about facts. There are rules for what you can call a fact and how you present things as facts.
It reminds me of construction. When you build a building, there are rules and laws and every single part of that building has to be rated and tested, then inspected so that we are sure the building will not fall on our heads. That’s how we can feel confident–even in earthquakes!–to go be in that building.
We trust the building. We trust facts.
But my memory of the facts? Is that trustworthy?
In fiction, there is an UNDERSTOOD warning. The author, by placing the book in the fiction category, warns all readers that this story has not been tested and inspected. It’s ‘just’ a story. It didn’t really happen.
But in my exploration of literature, I’ve encountered books that are more true than facts. How is the story of Frodo’s battle with the ring of power not one of the truest kind of facts? Yes, it didn’t happen. The place they ‘live’ doesn’t even exist. But that story lives again and again. In my life, and in others’.
So the story of my life, what really happened, written in a memoir, is fact. But some people would dispute it. That’s their right. If they lived the story too, their view and experience of it was undeniably different.
But the imagination it took to form that story was not in the realm of non-fiction. I’ve written non-fiction. I have written training materials on how to use technology. I’ve written step-by-step instructions in The Pregnant Professional. The level of imagination is completely different.
There are parts of life that feel like non-fiction. It’s a non-fiction moment when my alarm goes off in the morning. No imagination required.
You know what’s fiction? When my daughter is crying because her homework is too hard and she doesn’t want to do it. That’s where the imagination comes in.
So much of our lives would do better if we composed it out of fiction. If we were willing to unbind the prescriptions of what we HAVE to do, and open up the box of what we MIGHT do.
What might we do when the boss calls us into the office to reprimand us about something we were unaware we needed to do?
What might we do when we feel our beloved spouse is too busy to pay attention to what we want?
What else is possible?
What else might we imagine?
There are steps. There are best practices. As I’ve found in my writing, though, those are a starting place, not a finishing place. We are all creators of our destinies. And each created life is a work of art. Look for the places to inject imagination.
Look for the art. You will find it.