At the age of 40, I decided to pursue a long-held dream of writing and started with a young adult, coming-of-age novel. It gathered only rejections. While plugging away at my next novel, a work of adult commercial fiction, I was tasked with writing a nonfiction piece for a communications class. After passing it in, the professor urged me to try and get it published.
It was accepted by a national publication with a great reputation. A dream come true for a writer just starting out. I continued working on that second novel, finished it, and am still trying to find an agent, accumulating many rejections in the process. Meanwhile, I have also written several more essays, almost all of which were picked up by one publication or another.
Family, friends, and professionals told me, “Your strength is in nonfiction; that’s what you should focus on.” They said reality sells and that nonfiction is much easier to place than fiction. An agent even contacted me about writing a nonfiction book regarding my adventures homeschooling a child on the autism spectrum, an opportunity I declined. Neither my son nor I were ready to share our entire personal story with the world at large.
I tend toward literal thinking—black or white; right or wrong. I hold strong opinions and possess the ability to string a few words together in some cohesive way (most of the time). There’s no doubt those publishing professionals were right about my strengths and their advice to pursue nonfiction was solid, but I was determined to improve at fiction writing nonetheless. I wrote and re-wrote my novel until the characters made me laugh and cry and hold my breath.
A professional editor went through the manuscript. Conversations about my concept were initiated with best-selling authors. Many works of fiction were read as I tried to determine what worked and what didn’t. And I did learn to write better. Although there is still much room for improvement, I am again querying my novel out, hoping an agent, and eventually a reading audience, will connect with the story as much as I do.
It sometimes seems stubborn and foolish to nurture this passion over following the path nature has determined—forcing my mind to work in a way that is not comfortable. But maybe it’s because I am so literal that I love fiction so much. It transcends my limitations as a human being: my character flaws, my erroneous first impressions, and my tendency to grab a slogan or sound bite and run with it.
I am able to find the truth in fiction that I can’t always extricate from real life and get to know the people behind those snippets—their motives, their histories, their triumphs and tragedies. I find myself increasingly tolerant, even sympathetic, of characters whom I would never approach in real life, appreciating the validity and beauty in their humanity, even if I profoundly disagree with their behavior.
As a writer in this genre, I can be true to the human experience in a way I could never be in nonfiction—free of the disapproving comments and criticism of my peers and released from the possibility of offending my family and friends. There’s no pressure to fit in, no confinement or conformity, no fear. In fiction, far more than nonfiction, I can tell the truth, and that’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do.
Amy’s essays have appeared in The Atlantic, The Writer, The Washington Post, Literary Mama, Brain Child, and The Shriver Report, among others. She is currently seeking representation for a women’s fiction/suspense novel.
Category: Contemporary Women Writers