Struggling With Nonfiction

I don’t really write (or read) nonfiction. Most of my creative writing classes in college focused on fiction. During my last semester, though, I did take a nonfiction workshop. I had reservations at first. This might seem hypocritical for someone that blogs aspects of his personal life, but I generally don’t like to put my bullshit out there. I have a couple of people I’ll talk to about things that really upset me, but I usually keep my problems to myself. To me, nonfiction just seemed like it was putting your problems out there for the world to see.

I was glad to discover that it wasn’t like that. Posting multiple self-pitying messages a day on Facebook is putting your bullshit out there. Sighing and going into rants about how much your life sucks every time someone says “Hey, how are you doing?” is putting your bullshit out there. Nonfiction? Nah. That’s different. Nonfiction isn’t just recounting events (shitty or not) from your life into a biography. It’s not just about the facts. You’ve got to actually write a story. You’ve got to construct those events and facts into a tangible work that flows and narrates like a fiction piece. I was actually pretty surprised to find that writing nonfiction was very similar to writing fiction. The biggest difference I found was trying to make a story make sense when the real life events didn’t. Unlike fiction, you just can’t add in events that didn’t exist.

Recently I’ve been working on my first nonfiction piece since my last semester in college, and I’ve found a new challenge: writing negatively about a difficult, current relationship. I won’t go into details on the off chance that person (or someone that knows that person) reads this, but let’s just say this piece is full of a lot of hate. A lot of pent up hate. And the thing is, I don’t really hate this person. This person just drives me fucking crazy and sometimes I can’t stand it.

As I’ve been writing this piece, and as I’ve been writing about all the things that I’ve kept bottled up, I’ve been feeling guilty. I feel guilty about writing these things, and I shouldn’t. I know I don’t hate this person, I know I have good things to say, and I know I don’t like to concentrate on the negatives, so why do I still feel guilty?

I dunno. I thought about it for a while, and I still don’t know. I don’t feel guilty when writing fiction because even though a character or a scene might be based on someone or something from my life, it’s not the same. They may be similar, but they’re two different entities. Maybe it’s because this is the first time I’m writing hate towards someone I don’t really hate. Maybe it’s because these complicated feelings are being written down into a physical form, physical proof that these feelings exist. Maybe it’s because this story also represents a bigger problem many people have, a problem this specific person would hate to admit to.

But, I really want to get these feelings out. And I really want to show how this problem affects people. And… I dunno. Guilt aside, I still really want to finish writing it. I want to send it out for a contest due at the end of the month and my college’s literary magazine (which also happens to stop taking submissions at the end of the month).

You know, it’s weird. I’ve always faced awkward obstacles when writing. Fiction or not, I usually have to wade through unpleasant emotions and memories when I write. But I get through it. And don’t get me wrong, I’m gonna get through this piece, too. But it’s the first time I’m feeling guilty for writing. And it’s nagging at me.

And, as a good friend and writer told me, I shouldn’t feel guilty. And she’s right; I should never feel guilty for writing. I should never feel guilty for wanting to express something that’s bothering me in an artistic medium, either. I can’t fault myself for feeling the way I do. So as I’m finishing up this piece, I’m going to try harder not to let the guilt stop me from pulling my punches. After all, if I’m writing to tackle a specific topic (and how I feel about this person), letting guilt overwhelm me is only going to weaken the story.


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