Journalism Versus Fiction


“Then again, you wouldn’t be writing fiction if you were in love with journalism, either. Hey, everyone, let’s do some research! There’s a conversation-stopper.”
—Victoria Mixon, The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual

I beg to differ, Ms. Mixon.

All writing, no matter what style, can be beneficial to writing fiction.

When I graduated college, I stopped writing fiction for awhile. I needed to live, to gain experiences so that one day I could create something more than the whiny self-indulgent blatherings of a new adult struggling to find her place in the world. Besides, that was Bret Easton Ellis' territory anyway. Didn’t want to intrude on Less Than Zero.

The stock market had crashed, and in 1987, much like today, jobs were scarce. I spent two years freelancing for anyone who would contract me, writing community feature stories, covering local town council meetings, penning a press release for Clown College (I kid you not), and even editing a restaurant menu. I eked out a living with the help of some stints in public relations, first with an up-and-coming orchestra, now the world-renowned Chicago Sinfonietta, then at my alma mater, Dominican University.

At least once a week, my mother asked me why I didn’t just get a job at a bank. A stable income had to be better than freelancing, right? Determined not to give up on my dream, I soldiered on.

Finally, I landed an editorial assistant position at a publishing company in downtown Chicago, where I learned from Bill Randleman who, as it turned out, not only mentored me in magazines, but in life and the arts as well. Music was a love we both shared, and we were known to burst into song after a particularly stressful day to lighten things up a bit. Bill had studied at the American Conservatory of Music and often spoke of the various operas he had performed, particularly Der Rosenkavalier, rolling the "R" the way only he could.

Ten years of magazine work taught me many things, chief among them how to delve into the heart of a story, how important editing is at all stages of the work, and how to captivate one’s audience month after month, year after year.

Writing is writing, whether it shows up in a novel, newspaper, or magazine. The length might vary, of course, but the spirit remains very much the same. They are all ways to tell a story.

“The most creative ideas are simple.
Often they are so simple you say to yourself, ‘I could have done that.’
Usually, you couldn’t have.”
—Bill Randleman


Beverly Diehl said…
I actually love doing research for my fictional stories. And I hate when I'm reading an otherwise good story and some little detail pops me out of it - something the author could have addressed, but didn't.

If YOU, the author, don't care enough about your story, why should I, the reader?
You are absolutely correct, Beverly. Even thought it's fiction, being wrong about certain facts within the manuscript pulls the reader out of the story.
Leah Griffith said…
Karen, I love imagining you breaking forth into song! LOL! You paid you dues girl and all of the writing prepared you for your fiction writing.

I on the other hand had never written publicly before my blog and novel. I find myself still learning things that many novices learned years ago. Lately I've been writing for a local newspaper. My first free lance experience;) I'm a little nervous but mostly excited to be doing something new.

I really enjoyed this post and I'm still smiling at the thought of you singing. I wanna do it with you!!
Congrats on your freelance gig, Leah! That is awesome. You will do very well. You are a natural.
Kelly Hashway said…
Um, I'm always researching for fiction so I just don't understand the Mixon quote. She should really retract that. ;)
Anonymous said…
I agree. Just as reading almost anything can help strengthen you as a writer, so can writing in different genres, or different areas. Writing poetry has helped me as well as writing social commentary.

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