Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Transforming the Non-Fiction Writer to Novelist by Lynn Voedisch

When I left my cushy newspaper job about ten years ago, I had no idea that writing fiction was going to be anything taxing. I had grown up wanting to be a novelist, but practicality took over early. I knew that I wasn't going to be living in an attic somewhere sweating over a portable typewriter. (They did have typewriters when I was growing up.) So, I decided to set my sights on journalism, where I knew I could be paid for writing. First, I was on the high school newspaper. Then worked on the college newspaper while studying at a liberal arts college. In my senior year, I was editor of my college paper. My career moved swiftly because of my early efforts. I found myself at the Los Angeles Times working as a fill-in reporter for staffers who
were on vacation. From there it was back home to Chicago for the Chicago Sun-Times. My dream came true! I was a staff member of a metropolitan daily!

The problem was that the goal of writing novels never disappeared. I thought I could try hammering something out on the weekends or in my spare time. That didn't work. I suffered through a divorce and found myself a single parent of a little baby boy. I brought my son up
while working the demanding job of daily reporting--which often required night and weekend work. I went through so many babysitters, I can't count them. So, there was no time at all to write a novel. I could barely get enough sleep.

Years slipped by and I started to despair. Maybe I would never have to the chance to realize my dreams, I thought. But then I met the man who became my husband. I told him of my desire to write novels, and he agreed to foot the bills while I did freelance work and wrote a novel. So, romantic fool that I am, I quit my newspaper job, sat right down to write. I didn't want to write the Great American novel-- heck, "The Great Gatsby" has already been written--but I knew I had something to say. I ripped out a novel in nine months, all the while doing freelance jobs for various newspaper and online venues. Then, on a whim, I joined an online bulletin board, Poets & Writers Speakeasy (www.pw.org) and found out all things I didn't know.

In order to sell the book, I'd need an agent. At the bulletin board I discovered just how hard it is to get one. Then I learned that some of the things I had done in my novel were not considered correct for fiction. I jumped from one head to another instead of sticking to one point of view. I skipped detail, because that's what copy editors always cut out at newspapers. My sentences were short and direct-- perfect for newspapers, but a bit lacking for fiction. I also found out something that shocked me to the quick: many of the people in the fiction world looked down on journalists. We were considered a lesser sort of writer, which drove me crazy. I was considered one of the best writers in my newspaper department and the copy desk loved me for my clean style. But here, people were turning up their nose at my twenty years of background. One person--who was a bit unbalanced, I admit--called me a "wannabe" and attacked me on line, citing the uselessness of a journalism degree. I didn't have a journalism degree, but a BA with an English literature major, but my words were lost on this harpy. My enthusiasm for online participation dropped after that, but not my desire to make it in the fiction world.

The only solution for the problem was to get into a writers' group and also take some classes. When I couldn't find a writers' group, I formed my own at a local Barnes & Noble. I went to the University of Iowa Summer Writing Workshop for two years in a row. I took classes with a Northwestern University professor who also taught classes off- campus.

I learned. Wow, did I learn. I went back to my first book and completely transformed it. Gone were weak verbs, flashbacks within flashbacks and stuffy dialog. I learned to take my time and not rush the pace. I put description in my work--although this still is a tough one for me, because when I read, I tend to skip description. I stopped telling the reader what was happening and started showing him or her with plenty of action and dialog. And thanks to my professor,
I learned to put rhythm into my words.

The results were riveting. I did get an agent, but she couldn't sell my first book, mainly because it had an angel theme and the publishers complained that "the angel fad" was over. So I wrote
another manuscript, and another. I did some ghostwriting. Then found another agent. Now, while I'm waiting now for my current agent to sell my third manuscript to a New York publisher, I decided to go ahead and self-publish my first novel, "Excited Light" through ASJA
Press, an imprint of iUniverse. It's available at Amazon.com, bn.com, and most online bookstores. You also can order it at any Barnes & Noble store. It's about a little boy living with an alcoholic mother, who talks to angels. In the style of magical realism, they talk back and come to his aid when his mother's life is at stake.

After all these years, I still tell people proudly of my journalist status. I don't feel there's anything shame there. Journalists can write beautiful prose, and do so by making tough deadlines. We aren't coddled by the copy desk and we are used to working closely with
editors. If someone has a problem with my journalist past, I chalk it up to ignorance.

But I was a babe in the woods at one point, too. It took some real study to transform myself from nonfiction writer to novelist. Fortunately, now I can say I'm a two-fisted writer: fiction and non- fiction. Bring it on!
You can visit Lynn Voedisch on the web at www.lynnvoedisch.com.


pray14me said...

Oh, I dream of writing a novel... unfortunately my career of teaching about novels is interfering with the writing part.


Lovely post.
Hugs, Tricia

Bastet said...

Isn't that always the way? I've actually been considering teaching and people tell me it's going to get in the way of my writing.


Follow Us @soratemplates