The first words I published were on entrepreneurship and branding and other things I knew more about than most people, and that means of communication worked well. I could convey information quickly: this works, do this, here’s some information on how to do such things better.
Narrative nonfiction was the next step.
At first I thought that it was incredibly pretentious to tell stories about myself and my life. I thought, “Who cares? These are tales about me and my experiences. They can’t possibly be relevant to others.” A sufficient number of people told me they found value in the stories, though, so I started writing them down.
I’m glad I listened to their advice, because the result was my being able to communicate even more through narrative than I could by strictly communicating data. There’s a subtlety in storytelling that allows you to express otherwise obscure ideas clearly while leaving plenty of room for interpretation on the part of the reader.
Fiction is still a strange cat in a new house, to me. It’s something I’ve come to love, but I’m still a little weirded out by its presence in my life.
That said, it’s become quite clear, quite quickly, that the attributes I appreciate in narrative nonfiction are even more pronounced in fiction writing. No longer am I limited by my own experiences in telling stories that communicate the ideas I want to communicate. No longer am I limited by my own habits or mannerisms or politeness in asking questions that I think should be asked. No longer do I worry over the perceived (and very real) bias that permeates any piece of narrative nonfiction work.
The filter of an experience is no longer the author, but the reader. The work I’m creating is the experience, and that gives me the opportunity to make it a very real, very entertaining or educational or uncomfortable experience for those who rifle through the words I’ve written.
That’s not to say that fiction or nonfiction or narrative nonfiction or any other style of writing is inherently better than the others. It all depends on what you want to say, how you want to say it, and who is on the receiving end of your message.
But it’s a powerful thing, telling stories through fiction. I’m still coming to grips with that power, the same way any kid does, the moment they realize they’re not a gangly adolescent anymore, and now possess longer arms, bigger muscles, and the hesitancy of experience that keeps one from confidently knowing what to do with them yet.
Update: April 13, 2017
I wrote this around the time I was publishing a new “episode” of my A Tale of More series each week. I published it as two “seasons” of five book apiece, and man was that a frantic moment in time.
It was perfect for my lifestyle, though, as I was living in Reykjavík and my girlfriend was away at work all day, and I wanted to hone my fiction writing, editing, and book cover designing skills with something really ambitious. That series remains one of my favorite projects ever, though it’s still relatively unknown compared to my nonfiction work.