“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
—Virginia Woolf

Should You Write Nonfiction or Fiction?

Nonfiction vs fiction

Photo by Mpclemens

In allegiance to Stephen King’s writerly maxim, “The only requirement is the ability to  remember every scar,” I’m considering writing a new series of stories about my father’s five year struggle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrom.

I was ten when my father had to quit work. His body was hurting all the time and he couldn’t think he was so tired. Ten is an age you need a father, but for five years he was largely absent, both physically and mentally. My mom was preoccupied and stressed bearing our family’s financial burdens. I went through the first, confusing years as a teenager all but alone.

But the question is: should I write the stories from this period of my life as non-fiction or channel them into my fiction?

The Advantages of Writing Creative Non-Fiction

Some of the best writers either got their start writing journalism and memoir. George Orwell’s first book was called Down and Out in Paris and London, a memoir about living in poverty in two of the world’s most famous cities.

Mark Twain’s first book was a collection of essays he wrote while travelling in Europe and the Middle East called The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrim’s Progress. During Twain’s lifetime, the book sold more copies than any of his novels.

Here are three advantages to writing creative non-fiction:

1. Publishing Non-fiction is Easier

More people read short, non-fiction stories than short, fiction stories, and newspapers, magazines, and public radio all purchase stories like these regularly. On the other hand, getting short fiction published is incredibly difficult (you’re ten times more likely to get into Harvard than to get published in a a top literary magazine).

2. Non-fiction Often Pays Better

Not only are there very few publications that pay for short-fiction (most pay with copies of the magazine), the ones who do often pay less for short-fiction.

3. Non-fiction Teaches You Discipline

When writing for magazines and newspapers, you have deadlines, and there’s nothing like a deadline to make you more creative and focused.

The Advantages of Writing Fiction

At the same time, rather than writing directly about their personal experiences, many of the best fiction authors channel those experiences into their novels.

For example, while Pat Conroy’s novel The Great Santini is fiction, Conroy borrowed heavily from his experience growing up as the son of an abusive, alcoholic Marine. The novel was so true to life that members of his family who felt betrayed would picket book signings.

Here are three advantages of writing fiction:

1. Fiction is Enduring

While non-fiction might pay better initially, fiction writers are the ones who go down in history. We don’t remember George Orwell for Down and Out in London and Paris. We remember him for his novels 1984 and Animal Farm. We don’t remember Twain for his travel writing. We remember him for Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.

2. Bestselling Fiction Pays Better than Bestselling Non-Fiction

J.K. Rowling was the first billionaire author, not Tina Fey, and James Patterson sells more copies of his books than Tim Ferriss does (about 200 times more). In the end, top tier fiction authors make more than top tier non-fiction authors. (Not that it’s likely I’ll experience this first hand. You might though!)

3. You Can Channel Your Personal Imagination

Creative non-fiction is still non-fiction, and non-fiction requires strict adherence to the facts, which means hours of research, interviews, and careful remembering. I wouldn’t say fiction is lazier. Rather it’s more dependent on the author’s personal imagination. You don’t have to stress about whether something really happened. You can just write.

What do you prefer to write? Creative non-fiction or fiction? Why?

PRACTICE

Write a story about the hardest aspect of your childhood, but write in the genre you feel least comfortable with. If you write non-fiction generally, write a fictional story. If you write fiction, write a non-fiction story.

Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re time is up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to comment on the practices of a few other writers.

Happy writing!

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

  • I write fiction because real life is boring. 😉 I don’t care about getting published or paid, and when I need a deadline I sign up for NaNoWriMo or something.
    of course that’s just me…

  • Here is an attempt at fiction.
    Her lungs opened with a bang. Would she
    breath today? Sunlight filled her loft and tickled her eyelids. Where
    was she? “Home. This is home. I am home,” she said to herself.
    She allowed herself a faint smile. She was tired of the burn in her
    lungs but also fearful of what would happen when it ended. There is
    only so much a young heart can endure. “Today, I am allowed to
    rest. I will stay here, sit in the sun, watch the flowers. I will
    deal with tomorrow when it comes.”

    She made her way downstairs. She could
    support herself. Her parents hadn’t been home in days. Her cat rubbed
    her leg, and she grabbed an orange. She stepped out onto the deck and
    drank in the beauty. Her house was on the edge of the world. From her
    back porch, the wild began. She loved the wild, but she wasn’t a part
    of it. She didn’t have the beauty inside her. These days, she felt
    only hollow pain in the spaces of her lungs, but her eyes still
    hungered for that place of happiness.

    She was a strange child in a strange
    world, more bookish than wise and too thoughtful for most. Her first
    day at the new school, she’d made friends. She thought she was doing
    well, but her mother was angry. She’d been reading at lunch. “I
    thought adults wanted us to read. I thought it made us smart.”
    Smart and popular were two things, and she could never make them fit
    together. It wasn’t smart to be unpopular. She’d stumbled along for a
    few months, imagining she was making her way, until hormones kicked
    in and the other girls change.

    Her best friend saw a chance to rise,
    and she didn’t hesitate to take it. Every secret, every joy, every
    innocent laugh they’d shared became a stigma and a mockery. Her
    former friend spread rumors and lies, and she was too tender to fight
    back. The lies were so enticing that even she believed them, until
    one day her lungs deflated, and she could no longer walk to school.
    At home, she could breath, but would she ever have enough air to fly
    away from her silent tomb? The cat pawed her leg, and she sat down in
    the sun.

    • Aire

      That’s really powerful. I love the relation to lungs and air – I’m way too practical and often don’t incorporate powerful metaphors, which I’d like to. Thanks for such a good example.

      • Thanks for your comments, everyone.

        • Paris

          I wanted to follow this character around. I liked her and felt for her. The writing had a lot of images in it without being too clunky. I hope to write like you one day.

    • gah! Betrayal is a very tough part of childhood. I could never make smart and popular fit together either.

    • “Smart and popular were two things, and she could never make them fit
      together.” great line. Am sure many struggle with that too…

  • Aire

    I loathe writing non-fiction, I’d always go on about my parents and my awkward childhood. So here’s my awkward childhood. That is all.

    I had done it again. “How old are you?” Needs a simple answer, right? All I had to say was nine or ten – it’s been long enough that I don’t remember how close to June we were – and my interviewers would be satisfied. Until they found out I was home schooled.

    “A hundred,” I shrugged. My sense of humor was perhaps a little ahead of my time.

    “No you’re not!” was the kids’ collective retort.

    “Eighty-three?” I pitched, wondering how they could take a stupid answer so seriously. Clearly, I was making friendly jokes. Japes. Jibes. Laugh at my nonsense, for the love of God!

    “Come one,” said the only black boy in the neighborhood. I thought we’d been getting along, but he pushed his glasses up his nose in a way that told me he disapproved.

    “Nine,” I admitted.

    “What a load,” said the tall boy with spiky blond hair. “You’re like twelve or something.”

    The bright summer day was sweltering, and my arms were cold and clammy-feeling.

    “I’m really nine. Seriously.”

    I’d lost them somehow between the dumb jokes and the real answers. I was the lone monkey in the zoo – conspicuously, mysteriously ignored by every other stupid frolicking chimp. When I violently kicked up a cloud of gravel, someone, nowhere near the disturbance, piped up, “Wow, she’s *violent*.” I turned away from the playground and stalked off, anxious to hide my tears. My prideful march off the playground would be another mark against me, the unrepentent, vindictive weirdo. Somehow, it was worst to be the most harmless of those three.

    After I’d had my cry at home, I decided I could redeem myself. I just needed a chance.

    Two days later, a solemn gray day that promised to rain, I went back up the hill. It was the kind of day when kids stayed inside – even though it was early 2000, and video games didn’t seem to have the hold exerted by later attractions. On top of the wooden playhouse by the swings, an elfish girl perched, surrounded on the ground by four or five boys. Their insults were mostly indistinct, but seemed to be about her size.

    I hated to see it, wanted so much to grab a stick and go in clubbing the little jerks down like a lady knight of justice. I didn’t. The part of me that wanted to show I was noble warred with the part that feared my reputation had plummetted too far. It was the beginning of the crippling social phobia my parents had tried to avoid my gaining – and here I had it three years early, a veritable early bloomer. I took a seat on a swing and kept an eye on things. I’d run in if things got ugly. They didn’t. The boys left, the girl dropped off the roof and stood still.

    “Wanna swing?” I called.

    She accepted, took the swing by me. We talked about how stupid the boys were, how she couldn’t help being tiny. I asked her how old she was.

    “Twelve,” she replied.

    “No way! You’re so small!” I hadn’t learned that honesty wasn’t always called for.

    “Thanks,” the girl said grimly.

    “Anyway, so what? They shouldn’t have picked on you for it,” I continued, and rambled on about my pre-adolescent ideas of social justice. The girl seemed to warm up and we chatted about kid things. She left. I swung happily, thinking it wasn’t so hard to make friends after all.

    Like a lost puppy, I haunted the playground for days, waiting for my new friend to show up – trying to remember if she’d told me her name – wondering if she liked Harry Potter – if I’d have to apologize for liking it because she was very religious. It was that kind of neighborhood. When she came riding her bike into the park with a little posse of BFFs, I was practically glowing.

    “Hey!” I called, stopping short of trying the name almost on my tongue.

    One of the girls gave me a look that said *I know you. You’re no good.* To my new friend she said, “Do you know that girl?”

    “Oh,” said she, tossing her ponytail. Or maybe it felt like she did. “She’s some home schooled weirdo from the other block. She actually made fun of me!”

    Confusion and anger pretty much froze the part of my brain that remembers details. Words were said, swings were swung at people’s heads, pebbles were thrown. I just remember that it wasn’t me.

    • nice job!

    • Priscilla Butterfly

      This is very good…very descriptive. I can feel the emotion and visualize the event.

    • Elise White

      I like how you described your social awkwardness and the way you interacted with other kids. It was fun to read.

    • Emma Moore

      You did a good job. Interesting story.

  • Laura Robb

    These are very interesting points, Joe. Now I need to ponder more as I’m in the beginning stages of writing life stories. I hope to put them in a memoir, but I’ll have to decide if fiction is a better option. Or maybe I’ll just write both!

    • Both is definitely an option, Laura! Good luck!

  • jennastamps

    I’ve only written non-fiction so far, and the thought of writing fiction kind of terrifies me. I know I want to give it a try someday soon, but I will definitely have to search out some tips first on what to do and what not to do when making the switch. Maybe you could give us a post sometime on the differences between the two kinds of writing? Or maybe a few people could answer for me here, “What is the #1 thing to keep in mind when writing fiction versus non-fiction?” (outside of the differences by definition, of course).

    • Chase G

      Probably 1 of 2 things. 1. Start with the end in mind. or 2. Be so familiar with the characters that the story writes itself and you just “discover” it.

      • jennastamps

        I guess that’s the tricky part for me – inventing characters that have detailed personalities. I feel I could easily invent situations for characters based on real-life people, but coming up with someone completely fictional would be more of a challenge. I feel I’m eager to see what will happen once I’m ready to give it a try though. And your #1 is a cool idea – I think I can handle that. Thanks for the advice!

        • One thing I do when writing fiction, as far as characters — I start with a person in real life whom I find unforgettable for whatever reason, and then fictionalize them — change name of course, change any number of details about them that are pertinent to the story I’m trying to create, but then put them in the conflict and have them respond/react in just the way I’ve seen them do in real life. To me, that’s a good way to create stand-out characters.

          • jennastamps

            John, thank you so much for your technique idea. I can think of a number of people that I would like to include in an adventure, and knowing that you use real people gives me something concrete I can think about as inspiration. Thanks!

          • 🙂

        • Chase G

          One thing I do is I interview the characters. I ask them what their childhood was like, whether or not they believe in God, what they’re favorite food is. Unless you are trying to write an autobiographical character, remember not to sound like yourself. Then, when you think you have a person, go on to another one. Have them interact. Do they like each other?

          Be careful not to go schizophrenic with this, but it’s how I I roll.

          • jennastamps

            Do you actually write out a rough sketch of your interview with your characters, or just run through the interview in your mind? If you write it down, I imagine that you add to it and modify it as you go along, right?

          • Chase G

            Write it down. Most of the time, when you get “in the groove” of the character it flows naturally. But for some, it does take practice. Make sense?

    • When I write fiction, I just go for broke. I totally seat-of-my-pants write. I wander about doing my errands, and an idea bounces off another, then it sticks. Said idea bounces around in my head (not much up there to get in the way. 😀 ), then an image forms. I “watch” the image become a mental movie, and then I type out what I see.
      I my opinion, the best part of fiction is the only rules you have to obey are the ones you create. Be consistant with them, and your readers will totally buy anything.

      • jennastamps

        I like the idea of letting a movie run in my mind and then writing about that. That seems very entertaining, and a good way to approach a fictional tale. Thanks for the tip!

    • Audrey Chin

      This is a great question Jenna. There are lots of prompts here that will get you into fiction. Start with the ones that have the least to do with yourself. Alternatively, take someone really familiar to you and put them in a different situation or place. Another good way to start is simply re-imagine a story you know to be true but change the setting, cut out some people and then go. I started a novel about my husband’s life and now it’s gone to the publishers, it’s become entirely UNLIKE his life…. That’s how fiction morphs.

  • I always write non fiction. So I tried fiction. The names are changed but this is really a story about a difficult aspect of my teen years:

    She wasn’t a popular kid by any means but at least she wasn’t bottom-rung material in the hierarchy of high school. Michelle knew she would never be prom queen but chances were one of her friends would be, which when you’re fifteen, was like rubbing elbows with royalty. Some days that was all that kept her self-esteem in tact.

    Michelle never understood why she was allowed in the ‘it’ crowd. She wasn’t as pretty as the popular girls; she played softball rather than cheer leading and her short, croppy haircut resembled more a boy’s cut than anything feminine. She certainly wasn’t from money and she often felt like she barely pulled together the latest styles and name brands.

    Also, she was pretty sure her friends didn’t avoid the mirror like she did. Most girls her age took every chance they could to check their appearance but not Michelle. The mole that had appeared on the side of her nose where it met her cheek was mortifying. Weeks after having surgery to repair her broken nose the doctor removed the brace that stabilized Michelle’s nose revealing a perfectly repaired nose and sadly, a new flesh colored growth.

    It was like having a permanent zit in the exact space most witches have hairy warts.

    Michelle felt embarrassed, insecure and mostly unlovable.

    • Ann Hinds

      It sort of feels like my story without the broken nose and mole but many of us can identify about being part of the fringe. You do a good job of explaining the insecurity and it made me feel insecure all over again. I liked it.

      • Chase G

        Dag. I like this in terms of what Margaret said: very real.

    • you describe the teen angst really well!

    • Emma Moore

      Every pre-teen/teen and me can relate to your story. Good job.

  • Priscilla Butterfly

    Here goes…one of hardest aspects of my childhood…(non-fiction)

    I never really liked going to bed at night. I mean, most children do not like bedtime anyway. All the fun stops, sometimes abruptly, and you come to the end of a day, wondering what you will miss when your eyes close. I would lay in bed and think. When my eyes closed, my brain would open up and thoughts would run rampant in the emptiness of the darkness within my head like wild kids on a playground. When it was hot, it would be even harder to fall asleep. I would push my butt up against the edge of the bed, put my small legs up in the air, and then lean them on the coolness of the wall. When sleep came, it was good. It was sound. However, that sleep, as hard as it was to obtain, didn’t last long because it was often snatched away in the middle of the night. It was stolen by a familiar thief on most nights out of the week. I would wake up with a familiar start, and the shock would immediately turn into embarrassment when my ears focused in on my mom’s screams and cries. Although there
    were two people in the bedroom, I could only hear one. My dad would not respond. I felt like I was a part of these mini midnight crisis’ even though I was invisible. I was a fly on the wall even though I did not want to be. I only wanted to be asleep like all of the other 7 years old’s in the world. God, why can’t
    my pillow be more soundproof I thought, trying as hard as I could to pull it
    over my head to drown out the arguing.

    “Why can’t you call when you come home late?? How many times have I just asked you to call? Where in the world have you been all night, its three o’clock in the morning! Why do you keep doing this to me? Are you high? Drunk?? Why won’t you get help?” I would hear my mother yell. It would be
    the same script. Sometimes she would make it a little more interesting by throwing something at him. Sometimes it would be cold water. One time it was a black iron frying pan full of freshly baked corn bread. She actually
    woke my three-year-old brother and me up to watch her do it that night, gave
    the story line some real pizzazz. We stood there, side by side in pajamas with confused sleepy eyes, and watched our mother dump that black cast iron frying pan over our fathers head. He just stood there, with blank red eyes, looking at us. We looked back at him. I wondered if he was as embarrassed as I was. I couldn’t tell. I couldn’t see anything but cornbread going everywhere. I couldn’t hear anything but my mother yelling at my father to look at his children. He was looking at us. And we were looking at him. No one was moving but her.

    Sleep never came back that night.

    • Elise White

      Wow. That must’ve been really hard. I think, if you wanted to share more of your story it would be a good memoir.

    • “He just stood there, with blank red eyes, looking at us”…a heart wrenching, powerful scene. Thx for sharing it.

    • A well-told story in an honest voice. I like how you describe the inertia and embarrassment you felt — “We stood there, side by side in pajamas with confused sleepy eyes, . . . . He just stood there, with blank red eyes, looking at us. . . . I wondered if he was as embarrassed as I was.” The sense of sudden stillness and non-resolution makes it real to me.

  • Elise White

    I think non-fiction comes out easily for me, but it can be difficult to share what I write about my own life, so I’ll share non-fiction here.

    Dylan and I sat at the table eating our happy meals.

    “You’re mom is coming,” our sister Yvonne told us and then she took a seat in the living room. The walls were lined with family members, packed like sardines in the small house.

    Everyone was there, our half-brothers and sisters, their children, their children’s children. The only people that were missing were my parents.

    My Dad had been sick since the summer. He’d been in the hospital and lately he was sleeping in a hospital bed in the livingroom. Our dad was much older than our mom, 27 years, but he had always been strong. I never thought he could get sick. Even as he dropped weight and nurses visited the house, even as his legs began to swell, I thought he’d be fine.

    Looking back I think we were all like scared children in that room. At the time though, my siblings, and adult nieces and nephews were just grownups in my mind. One dimensional. To me they were either strong or weak, good or bad. I did not know any in between.

    When my mother arrived I felt like I was looking at her down a long hallway of relatives. She made her way to the table and looked at us with a sad expression.

    “Your dad died.”

    It was like the words triggered an explosion. Dylan and I wailed as the gaping hole of his loss grew inside of us. A hole that we would feel the rest of our lives.

    • thx for sharing this Elise – I was right there with you eating your Happy Meal. What a shock it must have been to hear…so sorry for that loss.

    • Emma Moore

      Elsie you did a great job sharing. I can relate because I lost my Mom.

  • Ann Hinds

    I struggle between fiction and non-fiction but when dealing with family history where some of the detail is missing, I am now leaning towards creative non-fiction. All my dates and names are verified but I don’t want to list dates and places. I have to add what I think might have been said or done. Let me know what you think…………

    “Mama,” she yelled as she slammed the door behind her, “He’s home!”

    Polly McCollum looked up from the pot she was stirring. “Who’s home?” she asked.

    “John is home. Abijah and John are home,” she said. “Lucy just saw them
    and couldn’t wait to tell me. I expect their mother is happy.”

    “I suppose she is,” replied Polly. “Will you please call your sisters, dinner is ready.”

    Martha Jane hurried to find her sisters. Maybe now, he would ask her
    mother for her hand. He’d been gone almost three years and she’d heard
    that the Confederate Army was ready to surrender. It didn’t matter to
    her. It was 1865 and she was 17-yrs-old, in love and all grown up. After all, John’s sister Sarah got to get married at 14, the same age that she had been when John went to war.

    Polly filled the plates and set them on the table. The girls sat down and offered a prayer.

    “I got a letter from your father today,” Polly started but 15-yr-old
    Caroline interrupted. “Is Daddy coming home?” she asked. Martha and
    13-yr-old sister Sarah waited expectantly for the answer.

    “No, he said that they were finding gold all over the place and he thought he might have a lead on a vein”, she replied.

    “Mama,, if I get married, will he come home?” Martha wanted to know.
    Caroline and Sarah looked up sharply. “Married,” they squealed. Martha
    looked a little smug. “John came home today”

    Years passed and in 1886, Polly lived with her youngest daughter Sarah and husband, Henry Depew. She was no longer working and spent most of her time resting. It had been a rough few year for Polly who was not the robust person she’d once been. She was 61-yrs-old and time had taken its toll. She’d raised the girls alone and used up much of her strength comforting Martha when John Carter was murdered in 1884.

    Martha quietly closed the door behind her. It the darkened room, Polly
    was asleep on the daybed in the front room.

    Martha tiptoed into the kitchen to find Sarah sitting at the kitchen
    table, pen in hand. Pausing in her writing, she looked up and answered
    the question she saw in Martha’s eyes. “Yes, I’m writing to Caroline. I
    imagine she’ll be shocked. I wonder if she and Robert will make the trip
    all the way from Oklahoma.”

    Martha looked skeptical. “That’s a long way to go with all those kids
    and Robert may not be able to leave his job for that long. The lumber
    business is volatile as it is.”

    “Still,” Carolyn said, “I’m going to let her know. This is the biggest news in years. Do you want to tell Mama?”

    “I guess someone has to tell her,” Martha replied. “There’s no time like
    the present” and with that, Martha headed back to the front room.

    Walking over to the daybed, she touched her mother on her shoulder.

    “Mama,” she whispered. Polly opened her eyes and smiled at her.

    “Mama, he’s home,” she said softly.

    Polly looked confused. “Who’s home?” she asked.

    “Daddy’s home.”

    • Ann, this is good writing! I had a little trouble trying to keep up with who was who, but the larger context of the work would clear that up. And of course the suspense of not knowing it was their father until your last sentence is good. The description of family relations especially involving the girls and their mother is very true to life and makes for entertaining reading. I can’t believe no one else has responded — this is good!

      • Ann Hinds

        Thank you John. I appreciate the feedback. I know that it’s confusing. These are two instances in the life of my great grandmother, Martha Jane. And you’re right, in the larger picture, these people are well defined. As for others responding, I am new here so not known and I have to do more reading and posting.

  • This is the question I go back and forth with. I enjoy writing non-fiction and it comes more easily to me than fiction. But I want to write my own stories, and so I waver between the two. Try this and try that. Now I just need to focus and move on with something. One thing at a time. There is no rule that says I can’t write both.

    • Very true, Dolly. I (clearly) have a hard time choosing too.

  • This is a really tough one for me. I have only written non fiction and memoir. In fact my first book was just published this past October, non fiction. I want my next book to be a novel and have fun using my imagination instead of working so hard with memory and facts, but the craft of it unnerves me. I am unsure about my voice but here goes:

    “I said do you know what a tattle tale is?” Scarlet’s mom took a long drag of her cigarette. She stared at the household bills spread out on the kitchen table as if they might tell her something she didn’t already know. She sipped her coffee and coughed. One of the bills fluttered to the floor.

    Scarlet leaned over and twisted her neck to try to read it upside down. She noticed someone had circled numbers on the bottom of the page with a red pen. “Um…isn’t a tattletale someone who tells ALL the time?” She handed her mom the bill. “I don’t do that, mom.” Scarlet didn’t think she was a tattletale. She was more like Lois Lane. Since she had learned to talk, it had been her job to report the daily happenings of their lives and with three younger sisters to watch there was a lot of news to report.

    “Well, if you are so smart and know what a tattletale is, why are you doing it so much?” When she sighed, her mom’s face disappeared behind a wall of
    smoke. It hung between them, heavy as an aged velvet curtain until she batted
    it away to move a bill from one corner to the other like she was playing
    Solitaire.

    Her mom was different since Scarlet’s dad had taken her to the hospital for those treatments. She didn’t shower. She didn’t wear the fiery lipsticks that lit up her face, and she forgot how to smile. When Scarlet asked her dad what kind of treatments they gave her, he said he would have to be a damned electrician to figure out how the treatments worked. All he knew was they were supposed to make her stop crying.

    “Scarlet, you are driving me crazy telling me all the silly little things your sisters do…do you hear me?” She pounded the table so hard, the toaster flipped on its side spilling crumbs everywhere. “Why can’t you just take care of your
    sisters? You are eight years old now, old enough to know what to tell.” She swiped her arm across the table spreading the crumbs all over the floor. “Stop telling on them unless it’s important!” She stabbed Scarlet’s chest over and over with her index finger as if she was ringing a doorbell in an empty house. “Stop telling… stop telling, stop telling, stop telling…” she repeated until her words ran out of gas.

    Scarlet didn’t say a thing. She knew she had to sit statue still until it was the right time. She watched her mom hold her cigarette and stare at it like she forgot what it was for. She examined it like it was one of those bug shells Scarlet found under the dirty laundry in the basement. She squeezed and twirled that cigarette between her fingers until the burning end popped off and landed on the table.

    All Scarlet wanted was to have her old mom back, the mom who sang Mack the Knife with Bobby Darren on the radio, the one who smelled sweet as the puffy white roses in the back garden. If her dad were home, she’d tell him to stop taking her to that hospital. She was sure those treatments that were supposed to make her mom happier weren’t working.

    • Chase G

      This is really great. I think perhaps too much was revealed in the end. Try to savor it until the last possible moment, to keep the readers guessing.

    • This has a great use of detail that adds to the sense of conflict and disorder these people must be feeling within themselves — the cigarette hot-box on the table, the overturned toaster with the bread crumbs going everywhere, the mother’s jabbing finger. This is good work!

      • thanks so much, John – helps so much to hear what resonates.

    • asm6706

      Lots of great detail here, but I think my favorite part was when you said Scarlet had to “sit statue still until it was the right time.” I had a great picture of this little girl, who shouldn’t have to be, but was aware of a right time with her mother. Very sad and piercing little sentence there!

      • thx so much for your comments -it helps to know what resonates!

    • I like the image of the aged velvet curtain, because it evokes separation, but it also evokes a face to me, so it’s like the separation is in Scarlet’s mother’s face.

      I also like this image: “She stabbed Scarlet’s chest over and over with her index finger as if she was ringing a doorbell in an empty house.” I can really see the physical action the mother is performing, but I can also see the desperation and lack of connection she’s feeling.

      You did a good job conveying that the mother was receiving electroshock therapy without actually having to spell it out. I think readers enjoy solving little puzzles like that.

      If I were to suggest anything for improvement, I would like you to show me what Scarlet does specifically that irritates her mom. Rather than having her mom complain about something that happened offstage, maybe you could write about the childish concerns that mom can’t handle. I would also like to see what happened that created the situation where Scarlet’s mom had to go for shock therapy. If she wore fiery lipstick and sang Mack the Knife, why did her husband decide to take her to the hospital? Could you show some of that?

      Thanks for sharing this story.

      • thx, Heather for the great ideas to help this story and improve the writing. It’s wonderful to hear what works and what can be improved like this – much appreciated!

  • Chase G

    This one was rough for me to not sound over emotional/”emo” if you will. Totally looking for comments/critiques.

    One of the hardest things about my childhood is realizing how weird things actually were. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that some parents talk just “because they like to”, or that your sisters’ friends should not try to fall up the stairs, or that mothers usually don’t call their father-in-law a “dirty old man”. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have a bad childhood in the least. We always had more than enough, I didn’t know first names of bill collectors, and we answered the phone whenever it rang.

    It wasn’t until much later that I realized that drugs were much more prevalent in my family than I knew, that divorce still lingers over my parents’ marriage,
    and that me having A.D.D. really icing on a cake of dysfunction. As I grew up
    in a home of deafening silence and slews of pills that gave me insomnia and
    really freaky poetry, it is only now that I see God more in focus.

    Now I see how I was virtually TRAINED to be a missionary.

    • doesn’t sound overly emotional at all to me. In fact, I’d like to see you “flesh out” one of the bits in the second paragraph – perhaps show the kind of dialogue your parent’s had by writing a scene….

      • Chase G

        Thank you Margaret!

    • jennastamps

      I agree with Margaret, I definitely didn’t feel like this was too emotional. The emotions were true and good. I feel like you definitely have a story worth telling here, and my non-fiction writing self would love to crawl all over the details of what you shared here and dig for more. This is a great start.

  • Chase G

    This one was rough for me to not sound over emotional/”emo” if you will. Totally looking for comments/critiques.

    One of the hardest things about my childhood is realizing how weird things actually were. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that some parents talk just “because they like to”, or that your sisters’ friends should not try to fall up the stairs, or that mothers usually don’t call their father-in-law a “dirty old man”. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have a bad childhood in the least. We always had more than enough, I didn’t know first names of bill collectors, and we answered the phone whenever it rang.

    It wasn’t until much later that I realized that drugs were much more prevalent in my family than I knew, that divorce still lingers over my parents’ marriage, and that me having A.D.D. was really icing on a cake of dysfunction. As I grew up in a home of deafening silence and slews of pills that gave me insomnia and really freaky poetry, it is only now that I see God more in focus.

    Now I see how I was virtually TRAINED to be a missionary.

    • Lots of interesting material here Chase. If you take King’s advice, I think you have some scars to remember in your writing.

  • Madison

    Since I still am a child, here’s an overly-dramatic rant I wrote a few days ago:

    You’re mute. You’re alone. You’re hopeless. You’re drugless. That was your substance and now you’re lifeless. What do you do? You sit. You
    think. You recall. You cry over the same thing, the same shit you cried about yesterday and the day before that and the week before that and the year before that. Ever since then, people have been asking you, “So what now? What will you do? What do you do? Will you do anything? What comes next?” What does come next? You won’t get over it. You can’t. It’s impossible. So you die. Kill yourself.

    What happens when you die? People cry. That one guy who never got your name right speaks on your behalf. The other one introduces himself to your family. “Your child was a great being.” You watch those people you never knew cry those dry tear and you feel pain. It’s not sadness this time, though, this is anger. And what comes next? They go on because they never knew you and they never cared. They go on to wake up and pray their daily prayers and eat their daily bread and sleep like they do. You weren’t a part of any of them. You are worthless.

    So you stay alive. You stay alive because you’d rather wonder than know the truth. You’d rather hope that someone gives two shits about than know that they hate you.

    Doesn’t pain feel good sometimes? It does for you. You love pain. You missed pain, so you got it back. Pain will always be there for you. Happiness is just that friend you met that one time and they only call once a year on your birthday or Christmas or Easter. But pain… Pain is there. Pain is constant. Pain is that one friend you met early on and it never left. And remember that one time Happiness took you from Pain? Pain got you back. Pain got you back and held you. When it happened again, Pain got you back and held you tighter and tighter and tighter. You fell in love with Pain. You know Pain. Pain knows you. And Pain is comfort

    • SJ

      I like this, Madison. It’s bold and remorseless, you’re not looking to make friends of your readers, just telling it like it is for you. The idea of falling in love with Pain the person resonates for me. How young are you? Is it fiction or creative non-fiction? As someone in her forties, who is still kind of ‘in love with’ Pain, for my sins (of self-pity, mostly), I wonder if thinking about and writing about this ‘love’ at a younger age might have saved me from the worst of Pain’s close friend Pity. People are phonies, aren’t they? especially when you’re a teen, the gateway to the fakeness of the adult world you believed in as a younger child. Salinger was right about that.

      • Madison

        Thank you so much! I’m 16 and this is a (very dramatic) non-fiction. Writing this was sort of therapeutic for me.

        • SJ

          Very good to hear it. I think raw artistic expression is one of the most constructive responses to pain, provided it doesn’t wallow. Your piece stops short of wallowing, which is not easy to do. It might be harder to decide what does come next…

    • I think this is good! And the last paragraph about pain is the one of the strongest and most clear-eyed assessments of pain I have ever read.

      • Madison

        Oh wow thank you so much! That means so much.

  • I can never write creative nonfiction, no matter how hard I try. All of it comes out bland, or I end up twisting the facts. What I like doing is putting the emotions I feel in real life into my fiction. By doing so, I think I feel the emotions in a new light, as a different person, and the emotions have more depth.

    • Absolutely! Putting my own (and others’) feelings from real life into my fiction is one of the coolest things about writing.

    • Nice. It sounds like you have the gift for it, Jacqueline.

  • A bit of biography (strong language follows):

    In 1999, I was in the US Navy. I was in the best shape of my life. I was 220 lbs of well-developed muscle, full of piss & vinegar. I was in San Diego, on shore leave. I stumbled into a bar around 2230 (10:30PM) with a couple shipmates. We had spent most of the afternoon drinking our asses off. For some reason, I decided it was time to sober up, so I switched to drinking water. We sat at the bar and when I ordered booze for them and water for me, my companions decided to start razzing me. The bartender was a gorgeous redhead, 5 foot nothing, ninety pounds, took pity on me. She handed me a tall glass of water and told them to lay off as she’d given me the biggest drink. They laughed it off, calling bullshit. She said I had pure vodka, swear on her honor. They said that I should chug with them (the fuckers had Mai tais). I was still buzzed, so I said, “Sure.” and took a huge gulp. The shock of the ice-cold water caused me to gasp and choke. The idiots with me cheered. The rest of the night, I sobered up while they got more hammered. I ended up chatting with the bartender and asked her name. She said it was Christine.
    We really hit it off and after the Garage (the bar’s name) closed at 0300, she invited me over to her place. Being a guy, 19 and her being an attractive woman who was interested in me, lead me to agreeing. I spent the night, and fell for her. The next morning, she woke me with breakfast in bed and we ended up staying in bed until 1500 when she had to get ready for work. She drove me back to the Navy Yard and I kissed her goodbye, promising to see her again during my next leave which was in six months. That shore leave turned into the end of my first deployment and I ended up living with her for the next six months.
    Around the second month, while we were at a club, she started dancing with another guy. I got a bit pissed because he wouldn’t back off after that. Finally, I got pissed off, took the guy outside and kicked his ass. Christine got pissed off with me, telling me she wasn’t my property, slapping me and eventually took off with him. I went back to her place, packed my stuff and punched a hole in the wall when I realized that she had my wallet.
    When she got back the next day, we had a huge fight. She told me she hadn’t done anything with the guy, just went to a couple other bars and went to her sister’s and passed out, and what was wrong with me, why didn’t I trust her, ect. After nearly an hour, she brought me around, I forgave her and we had make up sex. Two weeks later, the same thing happened with a different guy. The same thing happened when she came back the next day: an hour and a half of fighting, followed by make up sex and another promise to never do it again.
    After the fourth time, I was really heated and called her a fucking whore. She abruptly went calm, and walked into the dining room. I dropped on the couch and held my head in my hands. I was feeling like shit for that because her mother actually had been one. She didn’t know who her father was. I learned Christine had come back into the room when she smashed a ceramic serving platter over the back of my head. I fell to the floor, pretty fucking dazed. She proceeded to kick my ass all over that house. I wound up with thirteen stitches in my head and two black eyes. After she stopped and saw how fucked up I was, she promptly became apologetic, saying she didn’t mean to do it, but I just made her so mad. She drove me to the hospital and I got fixed up, telling the ER staff I had gotten mugged.
    She cried the way home, begging me not to leave her, she was sorry, it would never happen again, ect. I agreed to stay with her. That was the first time she beat my ass, but not the last. I was with her for three years. The only reason I left her was because I caught her in the act of cheating on me. But, that’s a story for another time.

    • sounds like Christine spells t.r.o.u.b.l.e!

      • She did. In more ways than one. I will be forever greatful for her cheating on me, and believe it or not, but actually for our relationship. Yes, there was brutal ugliness that I barely survived, but she taught me so much, too.

        • good for you – my granny taught me we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes and even tho’ I’ve learned those mistakes hurt like hell, the learning part is life changing…

          • Indeed. Thanks to Christine, I am able to appreciate my current love so much more. I have far more patience, and understanding. I also communicate more, too. Then again, I also tend to walk on eggshells around her. I’ve learned from my time volunteering in shelters that it is very easy for those that have been victims to later victimize. I never want to be an abuser, or abused again.

  • Sometimes she cried for no reason, like those times in church. She felt her cheeks warm with the shame of it. Because of those hims they were singing, about on-a hill-far-away-stood-an-old-rugged-cross. Like that picture in Grandma’s bible, the man hanging and bleeding and it looked like it hurt a lot. And so she was crying out loud in church and had to be took outside. The first one or two times mom was nice and said love things. But then that last time mom looked at her with hot eyes and said janie-what-is-the-matter-with-you. But that was all my fault, she thought again. Mom has grown-up stuff to worry about and I was bein’ a burden. Bein’ a burden’s bad, everybody grown-up said that.

    And now Grandpa — Grandpa who never said i love you ’cause he didn’t have to, he did his love with no talk, he let her hold onto his leg when she was scared and he helped her do tomboy stuff like he wired her rifle back together when it broke that time with the work-hard in the way he held his mouth, his face strong while he wrapped the wire just where it needed to go so she could shoot it again — now Grandpa had to go to the hospital and then, now he was dead.

    Grandma’s church friends were all in the living room, while she sat in the bedroom with her big sister and her sister’s boyfriend. Grandma goes to holiness and her friends pray funny they pray all at once and sound like a car on the road or a thunder far away and she always laughed when she went to Grandma’s church and they prayed that way but now they were doing it in the living room and it was about Grandpa and she wanted to slap her hands over her ears to make them ring and shut it out but that wouldn’t be nice and she’s crying again.

    Her sister’s boyfriend — he always had a line between his eyes even when he was trying to be nice — now he spoke to her: ” Your parents have got a lot of worries. A lot of cares. So let’s not add to them ok.”

    • wow – I love this and wanted more! What a strong voice “Grandpa who never said i love you ’cause he didn’t have to, he did his love with no talk…” Book? Short story? Curious…

      • Much-postponed memoir-in-the-works. I tried fictionalizing it as suggested by Joe’s post by changing the character’s gender. Thank you so much for your kind words — that you hear “a strong voice” is very encouraging.

        • I liked it so much, if this was the first page, I’d have to buy the book…

          • 🙂

          • Newbie01

            I must add my own applause. Your writing is compelling. With vivid details you both comfort and provoke your reader . Thank you!

          • Thank you so much!:)

    • asm6706

      I like that it is pact with information, but completely readable. You have great “voice” here. 🙂

      • Thank you very much — it’s so good to know someone enjoys reading what you’ve written — that’s what it’s all about. I tried to write as a child would think and speak. Thanks again!

    • Ann Hinds

      Maybe it was”on-a-hill-far-away” that already means a lot to me from my childhood or the suffering that is not comforted that drew me in. I get this. I really like it and wondered where it went from there.

      • Thank you, Ann. This is a piece of a work-in progress — an often-abandoned memoir. I wrote this piece spontaneously for the exercise two days ago, fictionalizing it as Joe suggested by switching the gender of the main character. I of course know where it went from there — whether or not I have the courage or perseverance to finish telling the story remains to be seen (honestly, I quail at that kind of vulnerability). I guess alternatively, I could also turn it into a fictional short-story or novel. All of the positive feedback is really encouraging, and I thank you very much!

  • George McNeese

    For this exercise, I’ll write a nonfiction story.

    I was eleven years old. As usual, on a Saturday night, my dad took my brother and I on a trip to East St. Louis to visit Mother and Grandpa. Duane sat in the middle seat of my dad’s ’91 Ford Ranger. I sat on the other end. As we drove along the interstate, Dad said, “Boys, your mom wants me to talk to you about us.” That usually means something’s wrong.
    “Your mom and I have been arguing a lot lately, and she feels that we need to take a break.”
    “Are you coming back?” my brother says.
    “Well, I don’t know,” my dad says. “I might come back.”
    “Did we do something wrong?” I asked. I remembered the time I got in trouble in school, and Dad had to take me home and punish me.
    “No, no, no. You all are okay. It’s just that sometimes mommies and daddies need some time apart.”
    I looked out the window as we passed the big Budweiser building. I looked out the back and saw the big red bird flying, which then becomes a small yellow bird stuck in a “A.” We were closer to Grandpa’s house.

    • Good story, with lots of emotional impact in so few words, and vividly told. Your last paragraph about the Bud bldg. and the small yellow bird adds to the effectiveness and readability — I’m not sure how or why, but it does.

    • asm6706

      I really liked this. The conversation is very natural, the emotion is honest, and the descriptions hit that perfect spot of painting a vivid picture without causing the reader to get lost in all the words. really well done!

  • Newbie01

    This is both fiction and nonfiction. Things can get complicated fast!

    Blue. varies shade to light, almost white, left to right, as the sun’s
    rays are more direct. Clea n, almost middle class, a tad of bohemian,
    owing to my mother mostly. Well, that’s not entirely true. He was a
    musician first, and an engineer second, although he was an engineer.

    Large window looking out on a smallish front lawn with a nice birch
    tree. I was never sure how the landscaping happened. I watched it day
    by day, and maybe now I’m beginning to put together the hats and the
    incredibly old, sunburned skin as I lay on the chaise, chasing a
    suntan. And the whispering.

    Hard to believe now, maybe not. I’m still a princess, one of the worst,
    the selfless kind. Visiting people in hospitals, helping a gardener
    with a broken arm, tutoring a child. Tirelessly supporting my husband.
    I’m such a good little royal helpmeet.

    And the crucifix on the wall. Mine had a slide-off Jesus and a hollow
    place to store stuff for last rights. My mother insisted my bed be
    placed such that I was always looking at Slide-Off Jesus. I took him
    off the wall and stored him in a drawer and she put him back. I put a
    section of paper towel over him and she removed it. So I pulled the
    comforter over my head and made love to him. At least then I
    could talk to him.

    • Audrey Chin

      Like the slide-off Jesus with the last rites stuff. This is just a description now. When will it get to story? Or if it’s non-fiction, then what’s the premise? In either case, as an outsider looking at the words, it looks like its something about getting off the treadmill and becoming an unconventional own-person.

      • Newbie01

        Oh dear, no premise or anything like that. I was thinking about my bedroom in my parents’ house, trying to remember physical details and the emotions around them. So I just started writing the first things I saw in my mind’s eye. It took off very quickly, in several directions at once. You probably don’t need me to tell you that writing for it’s own sake is very new to me!

  • Thanks Joe. Good thoughts, good advice.

  • Audrey Chin

    Writing non-fiction about the people I know paralyzes me. Rightly or wrongly, I feel that their stories belong to them and not to me. But if I change or omit too many facts, then the truth is lost. When writing fiction, however, I feel that I’ve free rein to add, subtract and elaborate. In the process, the essence of the experience becomes stronger. And best of all, when I’m asked about it, I can say truthfully … It’s all made up!

  • Quite a tough one. I usually write fiction, as my non-fiction tends to feel stilted and impersonal. But here’s my attempt at this exercise (less of an aspect and more of an event):

    I imagine one of the hardest things to ever be told is an estimation on your life. I know, for me, I had the most difficulty hearing the recovery rates of the immune mediated Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM).

    ADEM, a Multiple Sclerosis borderline, has an incidence rate of about eight per million people per year. I was unlucky enough to fit into that eight when I was fifteen years old. For those that don’t know, and I hadn’t until I was already over a week into my hospital stay, the mortality rate can be as high as five percent.

    I’d been bed-ridden with the mysterious ailment, for which there is no real forewarning or concrete explanation, for the better part of a month already. Come to think, it could’ve been longer than that. After a while I stopped counting how many Home Improvement reruns I’d watched and significantly lost
    track of time. During this period, I was under the false diagnosis of a particularly bad case of Tonsillitis .

    While I did, in fact, have Tonsillitis at the time, my GP was ill-equipped to tell that it would lead to a much more severe condition. He sent me home with a box of antibiotics and told me that the light-headedness and incredible sense of nausea were uncommon but expected side effects of the viral infection. I was told I should rest, and I would be better in a week or two.

    Come my second week in hospital (in my second month of being ill) unable to speak, move, or do anything other than moan and turn to the overwhelming pain in my head and wheeze of my upset stomach, a new(er) doctor had come to warn my parents – who, bless them, took shifts in sleeping beside my bed each night – just how devastating ADEM could be.

    I’m not sure if he thought I was asleep, if my near vegetative state had fooled him into thinking I could not hear, or if he considered it important I knew, but I
    remember him standing at the foot of my bed, telling:

    The mortality rate can be as high as five percent. While somewhere between fifty and seventy percent of cases can see a full recovery, at times a further sixty to ninety percent will recover with residual disability.

    There was a high chance of brain damage causing mental disability.

    This came to worry me more than my expanding headaches, and much more than my upset stomach.

  • asm6706

    First time posting…

    Not to sound boastful, but I can’t think of a particularly difficult aspect of my childhood. We had one of those We were the Mulvaney’s families, or at least the early chapters of that book. There were hand-written notes taped to our fridge that we had written to one another. Particularly my dad. He loved
    leaving notes for my mom on napkins or the backs of crumpled receipts. Often the notes had small toasted brown stains on them from where he’d laid his coffee spoon on the paper towel after he scribbled the message. I have a very
    clear memory of a sign that I once taped to the back of my brother’s door with two band-aids, that said, “I love you just the way you are.” I had a small obsession with Bridget Jones at the time. We ate our meals together, not
    always at the table, but always together. We watched a lot of movies, and played a lot of games. We weren’t wealthy, but we weren’t poor
    either. Our home was small, and packed to the brim. My parents worked hard, and loved hard, and fought hard, but from the inside, and hopefully from the
    outside, it always looked like family. Sure, we had all your typical hardships and obstacles, but my parents protected us from most everything that worried them, and always made us feel like we mattered most. Years later, as
    an adult, I received a phone call very early on a Sunday morning from my father telling me that my brother had been in an accident and, “We were losing him.” Never in my life was I more grateful for those rose-colored memories of my childhood than I was in the days and months that followed my brother’s
    death. They tied our unraveling back together.

    • I just watched the film, “We Were the Mulvaney’s” and I have to say you captured that same feeling of a strong, close family here – loved how you recall the notes and all the ways they were used, the notes alone could be a poignant short story. You are a strong writer, “My parents worked hard, and loved hard, and fought hard..”, your piece drew me in so much that I choked up at “We were losing him”…I hope you continue to write about family.

      • Asm6706

        Thank you so much for your kind words, Margaret! I really appreciate them!

    • I think the shift at the end, where you realize how much you treasure the “rose colored memories” is really powerful. I wonder if there is a way you could hint at its coming earlier in the piece, so as to make it feel more connected.

  • I think both factors are essential.

  • Kate in Brooklyn

    Hm. Good thoughts on this. I’m actually splitting my time working on a memoir and fiction. On the one hand, I feel like the memoir is something I feel very compelled to write, and will be easier and faster to write, but I don’t want it to define me as a writer. Do you think your first book affects how your audience and publishers see you as a writer?

    Should I work on my fiction first and then come back to the memoir?

  • Irina D

    Sarah was born with many talents. She wasn’t necessarily gorgeous but she had smooth olive skin, deep green eyes and a warm, welcoming smile. Fancying herself a bit of a Mark Twain reincarnation, Sarah prided herself on endless wit.

    From an early age, she could talk circles around anyone and remembered everyone because of her photographic memory. With her endless talents and tireless work ethic, she was the pride and joy of her parents growing up. Endless doted upon by her parents, Sarah fully realized what a special girl she was.

    Did Sarah grow to be a brilliant scientist or an only slightly crooked politician you may wonder perhaps. Without a doubt, Sarah could be any of these things. But she had one dangerous flaw: the Oprah complex.

    The Oprah complex – is that dangerous you ask? It is. It is a sense of your own grandeur settled within a pool of deep-seated insecurity with a dash of inexplicable self-loathing added for complete personal self mutilation. A normal person sets goals. I am going to be a doctor one says. Or, I would like to be a writer. One afflicted with the Oprah complex,
    however, thinks they cannot be a doctor unless they are the surgeon general. I
    cannot be a writer unless I sell more books than J.K. Rowling victims of the
    Oprah complex muse. How many books has J.K. Rowling sold? A lot. She has sold a
    lot of books. The odds of selling as many? Probably less than fantastic. Your
    odds might be better getting mentioned in a J.K. Rowling book than becoming
    J.K. Rowling. And J.K. Rowling writes primarily about fictional beasts and
    wizards.

    But we are getting ahead of ourselves to the roaring (with anxiety) 20s. Let’s go back a few years. With college at the clearly defined goal before her, Sarah did very well in high school and prior. She got top grades. Excelled at extra curricular activities. All the necessary boxes were checked off. But Oprah’s pincer-like grasp began to crawl toward her subconscious around the time that college decisions had to be made. Poor Sarah
    spent hours, locked in her own room and days locked in the dark pits of her uncertainty.
    If I choose school A, I’ll get an amazing opportunity to be in the creative
    writing program. I choose school B, I could participate in the world renown marine
    biology seminar. But if I become a marine biologist, how will I also be an
    astronaut? Little did it matter, that near sighted Sarah had never had any interest
    not the mention the physical ability to be an astronaut. It didn’t matter. She
    needed to find the surest way to be the best. More than that, she needed to be
    the best at being he best.

    After making a small forest wroth of pro and con lists, Sarah settled on a choice. This is the right choice, absolutely. Only at this perfect school can I get the fundamentals I will need to become a heart surgeon. And if I decide to become the head of the department
    of national security, my alternative area of study is equally respectable. Excellent. Resolved, Sarah thought. But a day after sending her deposit Sarah realized that there is no way she could attend school A. how then would she become the world’s youngest restaurant mogul? And so she leapt toward school B.

    At school Oprah’s face haunted Sarah like the Ghost of Accomplishments Undone. Are you on the path to billions, Sarah, she would ask in her authoritative yet soothing voice? I’m not, poor Sarah responded. Not even close. Should I change my major to come a bit closer to success? Probably not. But change she did. A lot.

    A few years after college, with no real career or life goal having magically materialized, the Oprah complex became so overwhelming that Sarah couldn’t take it anymore and decided to end her life.

    She wrote a heartfelt note to her family. Though loved them more than anything, she said, she couldn’t take the darkness inside her own mind nor could she stand disappointing their hopes and expectations any further. Nestled in her favorite bedding, with the lavender smell of freshly washed sheets soothing her rattled nerves, she turned on Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” An ironic choice she realized, but what better song to die to, than the one you fell in love with as a hopeful teenager. But as Sarah shakily brought the handful of pill toward her mouth, she felt it again. That nagging voice of
    insecurity. Hadn’t Kurt Cobain—not to mention Sylvia Plath—died with far more ingenuity? This will be how the world remember you for the rest of your life, Sarah, she
    reasoned with herself. With so many creative ways to die, how can I settle for
    a pathetic pill popping she thought?

  • Freddi Bateman

    Selling nonfiction beats back the “Who am I kidding?” monster.

    Even with multiple sales, most writers descend into what Frederik Pohl described as “periods of wondering what the hell ever made me think I had a chance of making it as a writer.” Without sales, it takes a staggering blend of self-confidence, need and bull-headedness to keep plugging away, struggling to convince spouses, roommates, parents, and ourselves that we are writers. Nonfiction sales help quiet those nagging doubts.

    Because significantly more nonfiction is Published than fiction, nonfiction is easier to sell. Often the quickest route into print is your local weekly paper. Many small papers are desperate for writers who can string words together without violating major tenets of grammar or sense. Whether you write feature articles or report on City Council, those stories will bag you clips, comments from your neighbors and, best of all, checks.

  • Alka Dixit

    just an attempt in fiction…

    • It was a lazy afternoon of summer and I was waiting for my result anxiously. I’ve just finished my 10+2 & have already written CPMT examination as my
    parents ( not me ) wanted me to become a doctor ( as my elder sister did) .

    • Suddenly, I heard exciting voice of my bro “hey… You’ve made it sis”.

    • “Oh! Really?” I asked.

    • “Yes, you got selected in GSVM Med. College, Kanpur” he screamed while going out of
    the room to share the news with everyone.

    • “Kanpur”, I murmured, “How can I go so far without anyone from my family?”

    • “Why not?” my younger sis said ruthlessly, “Nowadays nothing is so far, dear, so get
    ready for a new chapter of your life & you should relish it undoubtedly”.

    • “Ya…” said I, in a low voice. At the tender age of 17, it was not a good idea for me
    to go to an alien land & that too all alone. All the excitement was going
    down by then & it was taken over by anxiety & fear of unknown.

    • It was 6 a.m. & I just woke up to hear different voices all together. It took
    me few seconds to orient myself with place & time. I was on Kanpur Railway
    station with my mother to fulfill all the formalities to get admission in MBBS.
    ‘MBBS..? Oh God. Am I going to be a doctor?’ Certainly, I couldn’t believe that, but fortunately (or unfortunately..?) It was going to be true.

    • As I entered the Medical college complex, I was completely mesmerized by the
    beauty of College building. “So this is going to be my ulmamatter” I thought proudly. Same proud I’ve noticed in my mother’s eyes too. The fear of unknown was somewhat fading by then.

  • Athena Nocturne

    Broken hearts. They really do seem inevitable, don’t they? Like a flood of bad memories and shattered pieces of glass. The weight of the world on your shoulders, and nothing but yourself. The blackest hole to ever live. This is what I felt as I thought about her. And you might be wondering, who is this mystery person? Well, she’s just a doll. So easygoing, and yet callous when the time arrives. Everyone must know about her now. They must call her “The Heart breaker.” Not that you were expecting any other name, right? Her name was Charlotte, in actuality. Quick wit, and charm. She was all about pulling in, and letting go. Like wanting something so badly, then realizing you don’t want it anymore. This was what she did to me. This is a simple story about Charlotte and this boy who was too oblivious to notice her tricks. This is my story.