Fiction vs. Nonfiction: Finding My Writer’s Calling
My 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.
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Despite eventually amassing 80,000 words and seemingly 80,000 subsequent rounds of editing, my ambitious novel remains unpublished four years later.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
Last 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!