Are fiction writers better than non-fiction writers? You think about your literary superstars, and you really think about Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling and James Patterson (whether you like them or not), and not so much Malcolm Gladwell, Peter Laufer or Kitty Kelley (whether you like them or not). There’s a perception of romanticism associated with writing a novel, that it has to be gold spun out of air, relying solely on the innovation of the writer. For this, I blame Hemingway. It’s mysterious. It’s artistic. It’s hella cool. But the work of a non-fiction writer appears much less romantic. The reader knows that it involves hours of research in a library, poring over countless books and articles, interviewing people on the phone, in person or (my favorite) over email. It might involve direct scientific research and observation. What’s romantic about that? Well, nothing really, except that it’s gold spun out of straw.
While in non-fiction you’re drawing from a set of facts that you lay out engagingly on the page, in fiction you use facts to enhance the world and characters you’re trying to make everyone believe in.
And as for artistry, it takes a great deal of writing skill and artistic ability to take the elements of a real event/phenomena/person’s life and make it riveting.
As an adult, I find myself reading much more non-fiction for pleasure than fiction. Maybe I just like to be informed. Maybe I find the real world more fascinating than the fiction world. Maybe I get enough fiction from politics and t.v. news. I’ve even started following the work of certain non-fiction writers, because I like their topics and they way they tell them.
So, being a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, knowing that they draw on similar skills, and that they’re both pretty difficult to do well, and being a reader of both fiction and non-fiction and enjoying them equally, I have to say that writing a book is writing a book, and whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, it’s still pretty damn cool.