Once upon a time, I didn’t like cheesecake. I mean, seriously — who would want cheese and cake mixed? My brain revolted against the idea of a swiss-flavored birthday cake sprinkled with cheddar frosting. Or worse, a thick, mushy gouda-mozzerella torte deceptively promising to be a scrumptious treat. No matter what anybody said, I knew provolone and feta did not belong in desserts.
I hope, dear reader, that you’re laughing at me as much as I am laughing at myself. Of course, once I persuaded myself to get over my horrible mental impression and actually take a bite, I discovered that I enjoyed cheesecake. And now I’m slightly addicted.
It’s funny how we can get a certain taste for something in our heads and decide, before we even try it, that it’s horrible. But we make those wrong impressions based off of incomplete or incorrect knowledge. I didn’t realize that cheesecake had its own kind of special cheese, a cheese specifically geared toward amazing, sweet desserts. When you don’t truly know the ingredients that go into something, you are likely to end up with a faulty judgment.
I had a very similar experience with writing. For years, I’ve been stuck on FICTION. Glorious, gory, gripping, gob-smacking fiction. I invent my own characters, stick ’em on a piece of land that I likewise invented, and then let them all have at it. What’s not to love?
Then there was always the shadowy area of NONFICTION. Like your aunt’s greasy nacho dip that nobody wants to eat, nonfiction was pushed to the background of my mental pantry, growing little fuzzy spots around the edges. I didn’t know what was in nonfiction. The very term seemed to conjure up taste-wrenching horrors of its own.
And then it happened — complete exposure. My major required me to take a Creative NONFICTION course in college. I immediately imagined rows a dusty biographies, math textbooks, and how-to-engineer tomes in my future. Not sure what I was truly getting myself into, I began the course and took a cautious bite.
Nonfiction didn’t taste all that bad. In fact, I kinda liked it. It was still words, sentences, and paragraphs — key elements of writing that I’d grown up with. But there was a whole slew of other ingredients I hadn’t known were included — personality, voice, tone, mood, structure, etc. It was like taking that first bite of dreaded cheesecake all over again and finding out I’d been wrong.
Nonfiction writing began at first with small pieces. As I grew more comfortable within the genre, the slice-size of assignments grew slowly larger. I couldn’t make up my own characters, but I could delve into the refrigerator of research and pull out facts that I hadn’t known existed about people who lived (or live) more interesting lives than I. I didn’t have to sound like a stuffy Britannica; I was allowed freedom to explore my own voice but, at the same time, sample the different flavors of life.
Academics demanded that I learn something in this nonfiction course, but I believe I learned something that was not within the lesson plans — I learned I liked nonfiction. And I learned I wanted to write more nonfiction.
If you’re still not sold on the quality of nonfiction, consider this: this very blog post is nonfiction. I just let you explore a whole new flavor of writing through the creative license of the un-invented. You’re welcome.
Words of advice: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t trash nonfiction before you read it. But most importantly — don’t rate a cheesecake before you take a bite.