I’ve been a good little writer this week, getting at least a little bit done every day and (gasp!) actually doing some outlining. Well, for a given definition of “outline”. I’m not a plotter by nature, but with a complex story sometimes ya gotta take a step back and organize. Sometimes, it’s even inspiring, and leads to connections between parts of the story you didn’t see when you were face-down weeping into the keyboard over the details.
I have to say, as someone who spends a lot of both work time and spare time researching and writing, fiction is by far the hardest type of writing I do. Harder than academic writing, harder than technical writing for archaeology reports, and way harder than journalism-style articles. There are times, of course, when fiction rolls off one’s fingertips like you’ve been possessed by your muse and she’s the one doing all the work. But then there are the times when you’re like, “Hello? Muse? Where the %$#@ did you go now that I’m a third of the way through this book?” Crickets chirp. “MUSE? My brain is dying. Help!” Silence. “MUSE!!! I HATE EVERYTHING, ESPECIALLY YOUR DUMB FACE!” Definitely silence, except for the sound of author’s tears splashing into a glass of room-temperature stout*. (*The ONLY proper temperature for dark beer, thanks.)
This is not the same with non-fiction writing of any kind, for me. The problems with non-fiction are usually deadlines, word count limits, and the like. Although trying to find correlations in masses of data that can be compared for about 10,000,000,000 factors can break your brains in half, I count that as a research difficulty. Once I know my material and I have my correlations, non-fiction is easy because it’s just a matter of expressing something I know in whatever language is appropriate for the situation. And it’s quirky enough as it is. You would think this would mean that, if I know what I’m going to write about in a fictional story or novel (i.e., if I outlined everything to begin with), it would be easy for me. You would also think I would prefer writing non-fiction to writing fiction.
Neither of these things is true, however. If I outline a story too well, I don’t feel any urge to write it anymore because I already know what’s going to happen! I already told myself the story, see? Selfish, I know. I’m supposed to write for my readers. Bad author! No biscuit. And as much as I do like non-fiction writing (as long as it’s about things I’m interested in, anyway), I would always rather be working on my book(s), which I love to do as long as I’m not stuck. Although lately, I’m feeling more and more like stealing weird things from history (that’s not plagiarism, it’s research!) and putting them into stories.
Anyway, two things I’ve posted lately on the Clio history website that I particularly enjoyed writing are these:
Whistler House Museum – I had no idea how versatile or prolific the artist Whistler was until I researched this article! Or that he matched wits with Oscar Wilde at parties and held his own, which takes some serious doing.
Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site – I had NO idea that you could still see a standing building from the first Iron Works on the continent of North America until I researched this article. I also really enjoyed reading about all the different groups of people involved in working the business…in fact, I ended up having a dream that I was an indentured Scotsman while I was working on it, which is not something I would normally come up with.