I have written fourteen books of nonfiction, and now I have written a novel, and recently I was asked to compare the two experiences. What was the difference? Which do I enjoy more?
It seems to me there is very little difference in the actual writing. Writing is writing, whether I am writing fiction or nonfiction – much as a musician might say that playing music is playing music, whether you are playing classical or country and western. Where the difference lies, I think, is in how I feel about the outcome. I feel that the experience of producing a nonfiction book is different from that of having produced a novel.
To my nonfiction books, I feel like a father; to my novel, I feel like a mother. My involvement with the nonfiction books seems now to have been from the outside, whereas it feels to me as though the novel was something that grew inside me and was delivered.
This is not to suggest that there is a qualitative difference between the two experiences. As a father, I do not think that one kind of involvement or another kind makes one a better parent. But the experience of the novel does seem to have been more intimate, more visceral, while the experience of the nonfiction books seems to have been more intellectual.
Which did I enjoy more? Having now experienced writing from the point of view of both father and mother, I think of Tiresias, the prophet of Thebes, who was changed into a woman for offending the goddess Hera. Hera was convinced that men enjoyed sex more than women, and when, after seven years as a woman (during which time he married and bore children), Tiresias was changed back into a man, he was asked (by Hera) whether she was right. Understandably, not wanting to offend the goddess again, Tiresias hesitated before answering, but since seers are cursed with having to tell the truth, he finally answered: “Of the ten kinds of pleasure, men experience only one.” Enraged by his answer, Hera made Tiresias blind.
So I’m not going to risk angering the writing gods by saying that I enjoyed writing one kind of book more than another. I am not a prophet. But I will say that I am now hard at work on my second novel.