I have written both fiction and non-fiction, and you may be surprised to hear that there’s not a great deal of difference between the two. Certainly, as I review my work, my style is very similar in both. If you are only just starting to write, and you aren’t sure what you want to do, I believe the obvious route would be to write a novel, but I would consider what may be possible before you start.
As an introduction, I’ll tell you a little bit about both. My novels are set in Tudor York, I would like to think that they contain some humour, interesting and quite quirky characters. I give them some values which are probably mine so that even though they are everyday people they rise to the occasion and help to solve some of the bigger issues in Henry the Eighth’s England, eventually they become his agents. My non-fiction is mostly biographical. I have had many decades of experience at different levels in the education sector and I started as a teacher in schools and a lecturer in sixth-form colleges. It occurred to me initially that it might be worth doing a book of funny stories, and of course, there are many interesting anecdotes to relate, but it didn’t seem to make sense unless it also included some of the more challenging things I had to do, I managed to service for a while, where I worked very closely with young people with terminal illnesses and their families, and it probably is the most profound thing that I have done.
Writing it was probably a lot easier than writing fiction. I love writing fiction and one of the things I do not seem to be short of is ideas but writing about something which is at the very least based on factual events almost writes itself. As is often said real life is a lot stranger than fiction.
So based on this information I thought it was worth talking about the similarities and contrast between the two.
You are limited in what you can write about. If you have had any type of academic background or any degree of specific expertise in any subject, it can be informative. Oddly enough, I was talking to a surgeon last week (who is going to operate on my injured shoulder!) and he seemed to only want to talk about writing.
He proudly showed me his book on techniques for keyhole surgery on shoulders. He’s a very easy person to get along with, but I thought if a joked about how many he had sold he might have been offended. But what do I know? I would imagine in his world that students of that topic would have one on their bookshelf somewhere. There is no doubt that he is regarded as quite an expert. So, if You have a similar expertise (in anything, you could be an electrician or work in an Amazon warehouse) then why not share it with the world? In some ways you could compare it to YouTube videos: the number of times we have all consulted those for fix-its. They are often brilliant and posted by people who know what they are doing.
It could be a collective experience, something that many people go through, and one such example, is ‘Becoming a Mum: they didn’t tell me that!’ by Claire D Evans whose interview you can watch on MTA. It is a book about her experiences bringing up her children and I would expect that most mothers would be interested in it.
Have you had in your life any unusual events that perhaps haven’t happened to other people? Then this is your starting point for writing. I know someone in the Society of Authors who is about as down-to-earth as you can imagine. So much so that I had to probe to find out what he had written about. As we were both musicians, it wasn’t long into our first meeting before he started to namedrop. Eric Clapton, Brian May, John Entwistle and it went on. Apparently, he is one of the most sought-after guitar technicians in the country and has personally worked on Brian May’s ‘fireplace’ guitar. He told me that it was those people who said that he needed to put all this in a book, and that is what made him start writing. He never thought, and still doesn’t think of himself as an author.
Have you had a very ordinary life that could be something of interest? Think of it this way - how many times simply when you are chatting, do you relay a funny story about work, family an interview, or something that happened to you? And we all of those in our lives and sometimes it is worth recording. You could think of my book as a little bit in the genre of James Herriot and what he did with vets, I’ve sort of done the same thing about teaching, but I must admit I’ve not been very good at selling it, certainly not compared to fiction. However, I will not give up and the people who have already read it have given it five stars and those who haven’t have said that they’ve really enjoyed it.
Do you have a good imagination? If so, then I think you really are in with a chance. There is so much advice that Lee or I could give you about where to go if you are right at the very beginning, but I think essentially it is worth thinking about the following.
Try to write about something you know or something that you are passionate about, and certainly try not to copy something that you are particularly fond of. If you have a love of a particular genre and that may well be work like Harry Potter, then there’s only so much of it that you can borrow without being accused of plagiarism. If you already have an idea of what your story is, all the characters or even the setting then you should be able to get going. We have so many tools and services that can support you at MTA and that includes a very detailed chapter and book planner, including everything from characters to settings.
Is there something you want to say or something that just makes a good story? If there is, then go ahead, get started, get organised and get on with it. Even at this stage, we offer a ‘Pitch your Idea’ service which is done securely with the offer of a nondisclosure agreement, and you will only be offered positive support and advice, but…we will tell you if it looks like you could spend 12 months on something that has either already been done or would lead you nowhere.
And, there is a more cynical route. Some genres are a lot more popular than others.
Those will sell a lot more books, and more people will find them on Amazon and other self-publishing sites. And some writers just write to make money and they look to tick all these boxes first. If you aim to sell, then there’s nothing wrong with this strategy but make sure you get it right. ‘Time Travel’ is very popular but there are endless books out there for people to choose from. I have the opposite problem. My books are quite niche which means a quite narrow audience, but at least I know how to identify that audience. When people outside of the audience have accessed my work, that is the only time I have had negative reviews.
If you consider yourself a writer or simply want to be one, think about whether fiction or non-fiction would suit you best or…why not try your hand at both?