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Fiction vs. Nonfiction: Finding My Writer’s Calling

January 27, 2014

Two Towels and a Stick 053-008My guest this week is Thomas Mark Zuniga, a self-described twenty-something tutor, author, and restless wanderer. He currently resides in Orange County, California, but will probably find himself wandering elsewhere before too long. He blogs regularly at thomasmarkzuniga.com, writing about traveling and trials, faith and frivolity. His first book, Struggle Central, is now available on Amazon and other online retailers. You can tread further with him on Twitter @thomasmarkz. I heard about Tom from his aunt, Marielena Zuniga, a good friend of mine and one of the founding mothers of this blog. I read his book, Struggle Central, and was impressed by the honesty with which he approaches his life and his writing. I believe it was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates would definitely approve of this young man.

Tom’s Journey:

 I first found the light of a writer’s calling late into my freshman year of college. Though I’m unsure why the obvious took so long to realize.

After all, I’d been filling giraffe-spotted composition books with fictional creations since I was seven. I “published” a book before my tenth birthday – a handwritten story which my incredibly gracious father printed and stapled for my large family.

Additionally, I’d kept a journal since I was eleven. Written words were always my outlet, my very essence, and yet I never “discovered” my writer’s calling until college. Upon becoming a sophomore, I finally ditched the logic of a “safe degree” and declared myself an English major.

An English major who yearned to be an author. An author of fiction.

Fiction vs. Nonfiction: Writing a Novel

Upon graduating with an illustrious English degree, I immediately set to work on a novel inspired by personal events. I had no idea what else to do with my life; I was just so excited to write.

As I wrote, I posted teaser videos on Facebook, cluing friends and “fans” into my novel’s content. I kept a white “tally board” tracking my novel’s building word count. I even filmed my thrilling jump from 49,995 words to 50,000, as it happened, live.

I was something special. Or so I thought. Despite eventually amassing 80,000 words and seemingly 80,000 subsequent rounds of editing, my ambitious novel remains unpublished four years later.

Fiction vs. Nonfiction: Starting a Blog

Two years into my fictional craze, I finally started a blog. I figured every author needs one. While I did intend to feature fiction occasionally, I knew blogs aren’t generally fitted for fiction.

Readers visit authors’ blogs, after all, to know authors better.

When I first started my blog, I didn’t quite know my “shtick.” I knew I was a Christian and a traveler and someone unhealthily obsessed with Walmart culture. But how would that mess of my interests and personality translate into a coherent niche on the Web?

It took many months of regular blogging, but I gradually narrowed my blog’s focus. I found life in themes of personal struggle and redemption.

Out of that renewed focus, a bizarre book took form. It was a project I’d never envisioned writing.

Fiction vs. Nonfiction: Publishing My First Book

Struggle CentralLast spring, I self-published my first book – well, the first book that my dad didn’t print for me. It was called Struggle Central: Quarter-Life Confessions of a Messed Up Christian. As you might assume from the title, the book was not, in fact, a fictional creation.

My first book was entirely nonfiction – a vulnerable collection of my “messy memoirs.”

For years, I’d naturally assumed my first book would be that novel. I’d filmed all the videos and sculpted thousands of words, and I didn’t have an agent or a publisher, but by golly I had passion and that would be enough.

Maybe someday it will be enough; I’d like to think so. Somewhere along my zig-zagged path from fiction to nonfiction, though, I learned something.

It’s important to find your following before stepping toward publication.

After two years of forming my intimate little following, I realized my blog’s readers resonated with my real stuff. The more vulnerable, the more true to my writer’s calling, the more “fans” have emerged to support me from the shadows.

I’m not saying I’ll never publish my novel; indeed, it remains my dream to publish both it and other fictional projects waiting in the wings of my hard drive.

But for now, I’ve found contentment in this nonfictional writer’s calling. I would be foolish and arrogant not to give my readers what they want to read from me.

It’s all part of the crazy winding writer’s journey. Once you find your following, your tribe, the journey really starts. You might not know where your writer’s calling eventually leads, but rest assured, your tribe will be with you 100%.

And really, what else could a budding author ask for?

What kind of writer are you primarily: fictional, nonfictional, or both? Do you have a blog? Post your links in the comments; I’d love to connect with fellow writers!

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 27, 2014 9:51 AM

    I am so proud of you, Tom, and you gift with words. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, I always enjoy what you write because it is “real,” honest and comes from the heart. Your advice here is solid for all writers. Find your tribe, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction … write it and they will read. And I know that your novel will be published some day. Your too talented, so it will happen!

    • January 27, 2014 5:55 PM

      Thanks Elena! It can be a long patience-testing process, but I’m confident that finding one’s tribe will be well worth it the long run. It’s awesome to find such solid support in this often lonely writer’s road.

  2. January 28, 2014 10:17 AM

    Tom, thanks so much for letting us share in your journey. It sounds like, young though you are, you’ve already learned the value of letting the road find you. Major good luck in all your travels. Be sure to stop by every now and then to keep us posted.

    Marielena, I didn’t know your family calls you Elena. The things one learns on a blog!

    • January 28, 2014 11:49 PM

      Her full name is actually “Cha Cha Elena,” though I prefer to leave the explanation ambiguous here. 🙂

      Appreciate the opportunity to share some of my journey here! Will be looking for more of the road to find me in the years to come…

  3. January 29, 2014 9:12 AM

    Thanks, Tom! And I’m laughing at all my grammatical errors in my post (and also FB) … “your” as opposed to “you’re” … I really can write, but tend to dash things off too quickly. And yes, Sandy, only my family calls me Elena, since I was a wee one. We’ll leave you guessing as to what “cha cha” means! Continue your amazing writing journey, Tom. 😉

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