There seems to be a fallacy that circulates among people in general that if you enjoy something, you must enjoy all aspects of that thing. In my life, that often comes up in relation to writing, and the different types of writing that exist.
But news writing is not the same as fiction writing is not the same as memoir writing, and so on. It’s true that some techniques carry from one category to another, but the structure of each type varies because they have different goals. With news, you want to open with the most important thing and then fill in details (the classic inverted pyramid). With fiction and sometimes memoir, it’s often the opposite: you start with the general and save the most important pieces (resolutions, revelations) until the end.
I studied journalism for my undergraduate degree, and by my junior year I hated news writing. Still do (apparently I am not alone). I was all right at it—if I was assigned a story, I could get a good lede and build a decent article. But I didn’t enjoy having to come up with and pitch my own article ideas, and I especially disliked the cut-throat attitude that we were encouraged to cultivate, the get it before everyone else drive that is almost a cliche of journalists (although I do think that drive is necessary to a degree to be a successful journalist).
You can’t make things up when you’re a journalist—well, I suppose you can, but you’ll likely be sued and might go to jail for it. You have to know where the stories are in reality, and while it is an important job and a crucial way to convey information, it just isn’t for me. I like the characters and scenarios I create in my head, where I don’t have to worry about if it’s newsworthy or relevant or interesting to anyone but me.
I also admit that I don’t really have a knack for writing creative nonfiction or just straight up nonfiction. This blog is my first serious foray into a public forum for my thoughts, and I’m still toying around with how to make it interesting and semi-serious at the same time. But I enjoy writing this blog, so I’m working to learn and improve. When it came to news stories, I completely lost interest and was lucky to find that I liked editing and had an eye for it. I stuck with my degree, graduated, and got the job I have now as a copy editor. But I was fortunate, because I would not have cut it as a journalist.
The reason I bring this up is I see a lot of writers talk about how they think that aspiring writers should work at any kind of writing, that it all helps. To a point, I agree with that. But I think it’s important to be honest with yourself, too. My journalism studies certainly changed my fiction writing, in both good and bad ways (I’ve been actively counteracting the bad changes for a few years now as my style evolves), and it was better than not writing anything at all. But at the same time, I hated it. I got no joy from news writing, and I spent so much time doing it that I often had no energy or motivation to work on any creative writing. So why would I have stuck with it after graduation?
I can’t say for certain, though, if I would have stayed the journalism course had it been the only way for me to be involved in publishing. I tend to think not; the great thing about writing is you can do it almost anywhere, at nearly any time when the mood strikes you. And an aspiring writer does not need to work in publishing at all—there is no prerequisite to being published. I’m much happier being able to write what I want in my free time than I would have been if I had forced myself into journalism with the nebulous promise of seeing some beneficial changes in my writing style.
Working as a copy editor does have its own benefits to my writing. But that isn’t why I do my job; I didn’t apply to and accept this job with the hope that it would help my writing. It’s a pleasant bonus. Copy editing by its nature keeps me aware of grammar rules at all times, and when I transfer that to my own writing it means I know exactly when to adhere to or break the rules and the difference it makes to the story. For me, this is a greater reward than any I could have received from trying to force myself into a type of writing I know I hate.
Of course, I’m not hoping to make a living off my writing. If you are, I suppose you’d have to take whatever writing jobs you could get regardless of if you liked them. But I decided a while ago that I wanted to make sure writing always brought me joy (as I mentioned in an earlier post); I don’t want to burden it with the responsibility of being my sole income. That way, I can write what I like in the categories I prefer and not have to worry about dollar signs.
An aspiring writer should write, and write a lot, but not all types of writing are appealing to everyone—and I don’t think preferring one category over another makes someone any less serious about writing.