Plenty of journalists have successfully made the change from journalism to fiction writing, from Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway to, more recently, Jennifer Weiner and local Atlanta writer (and former Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter) Kathy Hogan Trochek. Margaret Mitchell was a reporter for the AJC, too.
From an early age, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I used to write stories for my friends to entertain them, and I loved reading. In high school, I realized that the best way for me to make a career out of writing was to become a journalist. I worked on my high school newspaper and later was an editorial assistant at a publishing company while I completed my bachelor’s degree.
What a wonderful time I had when I landed a job as a correspondent for a men’s trade apparel newspaper writing fashion and business news and features. I knew how lucky I was to be doing what I wanted. I’ve done some wonderful interviews with celebrities, but one of my favorites was with John Grisham.
I did eventually get back to fiction writing, which I found improved my nonfiction feature writing. I was doing more story-telling in my features with a little prose, while still keeping my stories succinct. It certainly wasn’t gonzo journalism. It was factual and as balanced and fair as possible, but the stories were more interesting.
I don’t know that my fiction writing was similarly affected, but my journalism background does keep me from becoming too flowery. I also find that quoting people for years helps with dialogue in fiction writing. And in journalism, there’s no room for writer’s block.
Missing a deadline is unacceptable in journalism. An agent I worked with for a while was thrilled with my journalism background because she knew I would make my deadlines, and she knew I could take constructive criticism.
However, I found that my love for research and tenacity for accuracy can encumber my fiction writing. While I love dreaming up scenarios and dialogue for my characters, the historical accuracy can be daunting. But historical accuracy–and I am writing historical novels–is important. A year or two ago at an Atlanta Writers Club seminar, the leader, a published author, hammered home how important it is to be historically accurate. Scholars and fans of a particular period will latch onto every error and let you know about it. But I learned that rule about accuracy as a journalist.
Jennifer Weiner writes on her website, “I think that journalism is just about the perfect career for aspiring young writers.” I have to agree. It certainly teaches writers good skills and habits. And right now, I’m doing more fiction writing than non-fiction and having a blast.