A few months ago, just as I was settling in to start drafting a new manuscript, I did the worst, most counter-productive, generally dumbass thing this writer can do when she's settling in to start drafting a new manuscript:
I read a fantastic book.
It was a "contemporary" YA love story. It made sense to read it at that moment in time. After all, I was beginning work on a "contemporary" YA love story. Except suddenly, compared to this book, my "contemporary" YA love story was a pale shadow of a piece of garbage on the bottom of an out-of-style mateless shoe in the back of my closet. I wanted my book to be a fraction of how wonderful this book was, and I had no idea how to make it that way. Suddenly I was doubting everything I had planned and envisioned for my new project. This was how I knew it was time to Put Away All The Fiction.
Normally, I voraciously om-nom-nom all kinds of fiction. I learn a lot from the books I enjoy, and even more from the books I don't. I feel like I get a little better, my storytelling instincts a little sharper, with each book I close the cover on. But when I'm getting into the meat of a new novel, all those "lessons" just confuse me. I work better if I don't have any other narrative voices in my head but my own, and nothing positive or negative to compare with my own inclinations. I need to be true to my own characters and story, and that means no philandering with other characters and story who might, in the light of self-doubt, seem much more attractive and interesting.
So after I Put Away All The Fiction, I Go To Town On Non-Fiction. This is my chance to explore a wide variety of memoir, essays, biographies, history, commentary, parenting advice, and humor. Now I have the excuse, and the motivation, to sink into the heartbreakingly transcendent world of Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo and the perspective-toppling David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. To feel empowered with Protecting the Gift by Gavin deBecker and snort-laugh with Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling. I'll even get to that issue of National Geographic that's been sitting in the downstairs bathroom for three months.
With non-fiction, my world expands. I'm stuck cocooning at home with my draft, passing up social invitations and family activities that would put me out there experiencing stuff, yet I'm traveling far and wide. I'm meeting characters too wonderful for any author to create. I'm feeling smarter by the page. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, something I've read will seep into my draft. I really love this time, my time of all the non-fiction. It's like a vacation to reality.
However, I'm thinking we really need a better name than "non-fiction." Can we please refrain from using the prefix "non" with any kind of book? Can we come up with something that suggests all the things this kind of reading is, rather that what it is not? Hmmmm...