Finally, my writing is my work

If not here, where?

If not here, where?

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been writing forever and have little to show for it. And that’s mostly true. Three decades of professional writing, editing, and publishing have provided me with a plaque for my wall (which is stored in a box), a file of clippings and samples, and an unwavering commitment to the Oxford comma.

I’m not complaining. I’m happy with how my writing career unfolded. As a journalist, business, and technical writer, I’ve had opportunities to write in many different styles and situations, and meet and work with people from all over this country, and beyond this continent. As an instructor, editor, and mentor, I’ve helped new writers of all ages (including children, teens, and retirees) discover the joy of impacting others with words. I’m blessed to be able to say I’ve made a living doing what I love.

But that income has exclusively come from writing other people’s stories. Or helping them learn to write their own.

My writing…short stories and full manuscripts, some factual and others fictional…has always been an after hours activity. What I did during my time off. For the fun of it.

There was always the plan to publish my writing eventually. But I didn’t have much sense of urgency for it. I’ve been content to keep my writing on the side while I earned steady money writing for others. I would get serious about publishing later. When I was older. Someday.

The problem with putting my writing off until later was the risk someday would never arrive. The problem with putting it off for decades was finding myself middle-aged and unable to provide an adequate answer when asked “what have you written that I might have read?”

“Probably nothing” just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

For the past few years, as my illness forced a slow down, and then a full stop to my career of writing for others, my writing stayed right where it had always been…on the side. I’ve been focused on, actually obsessed with, getting back to work. Work, for me, continued to mean writing for others to provide me income.

Over the holidays I finally realized that my definition of work must change. Life has revised my plan and is waiting for me to notice.

I have two choices. I can continue to fight for the way I thought things would be at this time in my life. Or I can choose to see this new plan not as a limitation of what I previously wanted, but as a liberation. Freedom. Opportunity.

Joseph Campbell said “you must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”

With that mantra I’m officially declaring that I have ceased writing for others (Janda Writing and Consulting is closed as of January 1, 2016) and I will be focusing solely on my own projects. I’ll continue with plans to mentor other writers and offer advice and instruction, but those will be on the side. My writing is now my primary work.

I’ll be revamping this website to reflect that change and, hopefully, this shift in focus will provide me more time to blog. My writing goals for 2016 include completIng the final revision of my current work in progress and readying it for publication, offering a couple of writing classes, and reviewing older manuscripts.

Someday starts today.

Advertisements

Part 2 of truth doesn’t have to be complicated

It’s said there are 3 sides to every story: his side, her side and the truth.

Truth is easy enough to determine when we’re talking verifiable facts. Dates. Times. Exact numbers of widgets. Writers either get these right or wrong in nonfiction and their fact checkers and readers judge them accordingly, as I blogged last week.

But how those facts are perceived, and the meaning assigned to them, is personal. People can perceive the same event quite differently. A handful of people to one person can be a crowd to another, or a gang to a third. The devil is not just in the details, it’s also in the conclusions drawn from those details.

Personal perceptions are part of any story told. Even a “just the facts ma’am” recounting is subject to spin. But that’s not automatically a bad thing.

Writers of nonfiction are expected to draw conclusions based on their perceptions. Journalists, technical writers, essayists and creative nonfiction writers all make judgments as they write. Writers decide what facts to highlight, and order of importance, based on their knowledge and experience. They write the truth as they know it, drawing conclusions based both on verifiable facts and their perception of what those facts mean. It’s unavoidable.

And that’s ok.

Of course there have been, are, and will again be writers who take things too far. That’s why we have terms like exaggeration, melodrama and hyperbole.

However, the nonfiction writer does have certain obligations to the reader. The writer must not alter facts. And when it comes to descriptive words (such as few, several, many, near and far), the writer must sincerely strive for accuracy as they relate what they perceived.

Ultimately the writing speaks for itself. The honest, the accurate, the most truthful perceptions are often the most enduring works of nonfiction. Perhaps that is because we humans love a true story. Perhaps it’s because we have gotten pretty good at figuring out when people are lying to us, be it to our face or in writing.

The nonfiction writer cannot deliberately mislead the reader. That’s propaganda. Fiction.

That’s the line that cannot be crossed.

Truth doesn’t have to be complicated

Once again the writing community is blathering breathlessly about the nature of truth. What are facts and why are they stubborn things? Can true stories be told without tweaking what happened to make the tale more dramatic or compelling? How much tweaking is too much tweaking? What does nonfiction really mean anyway?

This happens every so often. A journalist bends the truth or creates an imaginary friend as a “source” to get the big story to press. A memoir writer makes up events that never happened or people who never lived to help propel a life story into a best seller. An essayist publishes a book detailing an argument with a fact checker that attempts to justify stark departures from reality because those departures allegedly “sound better.”

Unfortunately the latter has led to literary minds once again wrestling with the question of truth and the role of factual accuracy in nonfiction. Thankfully, according to this source, at least one panel of writers apparently understands that the issue is not that complicated.

Truthfully, this is a topic that writers shouldn’t have to discuss. All prose writing can be divided into two categories, fiction and nonfiction. Fiction is made up, even if it’s based on real events. Nonfiction is, brace yourself, not fiction.

Each of these categories can then be subdivided into genres, but regardless of what flavor of the writing, readers bring certain assumptions to the table depending on which category the writing claims to be. Readers assume that nonfiction is, shockingly, not fiction.

Any nonfiction writer, creative or otherwise, who claims they can’t tell a good nonfiction story without altering verifiable facts (such as the number of businesses in a particular location, or whether two specific event took place on the same day) has three choices. One, select a story to tell that isn’t burdened with stubborn facts or inconvenient truths. Two, become a better writer, one that can weave reality into an intoxicating story without tweaking, altering, or outright fabricating. Or, three, write fiction.

It truly is that simple.