Telling the Truth
by Laura Yeager
Are you a fiction writer
struggling to publish your fiction, and no one is buying?
That was my situation five
years ago. In 2004, I considered myself a dyed-in-the-wool fiction
writer, but I’d sold only five stories in 20 years. (Granted, I
landed my first published short story at The Paris Review in 1992,
but I considered that beginner’s luck.) I had studied the art of
storytelling in three of the best schools in the country, including
The Writers’ Workshop at The University of Iowa, and I’d earned
three degrees in the art of penning tales. I was even working as a
fiction writing teacher at Gotham Writers’ Workshop.
But in 2005, something
extraordinary happened. My husband and I became parents. We
adopted a baby boy from Guatemala. Having a child put a whole new
spin on my life, and after we brought Tommy home, I decided to try
something different. I decided to try writing nonfiction.
To make a long story short
(no pun intended), this new activity suited me, and I began to
successfully write and sell nonfiction.
If you’re in a rut with
your fiction, I recommend that you change your mental template and
write nonfiction. Why?
Writing and selling nonfiction can build your
This task can also build up your portfolio.
You might be able to make more money writing
nonfiction. (At least, this was my experience.)
Writing nonfiction can also open doors for you. (In
fact, Jonathan Franzen said he got into The New Yorker via the
nonfiction route before publishing fiction there.)
How did I make the switch from fiction to nonfiction? The process,
outlined below, was relatively painless:
1. First, I read and studied about writing nonfiction. The
resource that taught me the most about writing all kinds of
nonfiction from memoirs to restaurant reviews was, of all things, a
freshman composition textbook that I used to teach composition at
local colleges part-time. The text isThe St. Martin’s Guide to
Writing, by Axelrod & Cooper. As well as teaching me how to
write autobiographical nonfiction and basic evaluations, the text
also outlined process narrations, journalistic profile pieces and
causal analyses. All that teaching rubbed off on me, the teacher.
They say if you want to learn something, you should teach it. I
highly recommend this textbook to teach you the basics of molding
2. Next, I took one class in Freelance Article Writing at Gotham.
Because I taught writing at this school, I could take classes there
for free. It was in this forum that I picked up more information on
finding a good angle for any topic and the fine art of
interviewing. I also took advantage of the workshop format and
workshopped two magazine articles during this class.
3. At this point, I dove right in. I began, by trial and error, to
construct nonfiction. My first article was for a magazine. It was
about gift giving and the occasions it’s necessary to give gifts.
The article was terrible. Parts of it made no sense. But I kept
trying. My next article, “Bad Dates Can Be Good For You,” was a
humorous dating essay. This piece was considerably better in terms
of organization and logic. (But I’ve never been able to place this
at any magazine, and I’ve tried to over a dozen times.)
4. And then, something fortuitous occurred. Again, as mentioned
above, I adopted a baby from a foreign country. What happened was,
in essence, I had a blockbuster story to tell. You see, my adoption
process was complicated by the fact that I had severe bipolar
illness. There I was, a “crazy” lady, trying to bring home a
child. In a nutshell, the story, full of suspense and irony, wrote
and sold itself. The story found me. Imperfectparent.com bought
“My Journey Through Bipolar Motherhood” for $25.00. I was
5. Imperfectparent.com is a relatively small parenting online
magazine. If one is starting out as a nonfiction writer, I
recommend that you send your stuff to smaller venues first.
Theoretically, it’s an easier proposition.
6. The next thing that happened was truly a lucky break. I made a
connection with a well-known editor. Ron Kovach, the editor of The
Writer Magazine, contacted Gotham Writers’ Workshop to see if Gotham
teachers wanted to write articles for The Writer. I jumped on this
opportunity, writing and selling two articles, a causal analysis
about how learning to write is learning to wait and a descriptive
how-to on subplots, earning a whooping $800.00 in the process. It
was then that I considered myself a nonfiction writer.
Overall, the process of breaking into nonfiction writing took about
three years, but it was well worth it. Since 2005, I’ve published
articles at print publications such as The Writer Magazine, The
Toastmaster Magazine, The Adjunct Advocate, bp (Bipolar Magazine),
The Akron Family Magazine and Abilities Magazine. Online, I’ve
published at imperfectparent.com, orato.com, commonties.com,
thesavvygal.com, nycvoices.org, youandmemagazine.com, write.org,
martinilounge.com, delladonna.com and now author.org. Also, during
this time, I took up speechwriting, writing speeches for
instantweddingtoasts.com and occasionalwords.com. Finally, I’m
currently a women’s health blogger at empowher.com.
Of course, I never could have done this so “quickly” if I hadn’t
have had such a strong background in fiction writing.
So if you’re raking up degrees in fiction writing, writing your buns
off and having little to show for it, why not try writing
It couldn’t hurt.