Nonfiction Rules; Fiction Drools (Why I Would Rather Allude to True Stories of My Own Life Than to Have to Create Characters and Story Lines)

Why make up a bunch of stuff to write about when the story is just sitting there, waiting to be told?

There are many times in life when I believe it’s important to work on my weaknesses until they become my strengths.  Like with the Rubik’s Cube, for example.  Other times, I just run the other way, knowing that the best option is just to stick with what I know best.  And so is the case with writing fiction; I’m not good at it, I don’t enjoy it, and I have no desire to try.  Seems like too much homework to me.  Granted, I very much admire/envy those who have the talent to write fiction.

I write nonfiction, instead, because it comes so naturally to me.  There’s no need to invent clever, yet deep characters- I already have all the ones I need.

The characters of my writings are usually you (both specifically and generically at the same time), friends, family, heroes, idiots, time, life itself, and myself.  The trickiest part of making this work is how I handle both the first and last subject I just named: you and me.

When I do actually use the word “you”, I try to avoid placing it next to the word “probably” because I don’t truly know anything “you probably” do, think, or are.  All I can do is portray things from my own perspective based on what I do, think, and am.  As for myself as a subject (the narrator and host), I’m careful not to make it obvious what a major role I play in the story.  I will quote French author Gustave Flaubert, “An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.”  It’s not about me; it’s about the story.  But the only way I can set the stage for common ground between “you” and me is by accenting the whole thing with my own life.  Like most album covers for the Steve Miller Band’s records where Steve Miller himself was M.I.A., if my face or image is attached or present, it’s almost better.  Let the art speak for itself.

I also love writing nonfiction because it’s pretty convenient how time can be manipulated; I am able to encompass the past, present, and future all in one.  Typically I start out the post with a story that already happened (past), linking it to who I am today (present day), and end it with how that sets the tone for how things will continue to be (future).

Writing nonfiction allows me to serve as my own psychologist, hopefully entertain others, and in a sense, to have the ability to travel through time.

Unsolicited Advice is Like Fruitcake

Like fruitcake, it’s a popular gift.  And like fruitcake, it’s usually not received with sincere grattitude.

Yesterday I read someone’s facebook status update saying they are “sick and tired of getting unsolicited advice about how to raise my kids”.  A flood of comments followed from people who agreed, along with several “likes this”.  Good call.

Because there is actually a difference between constructive criticism and unsolicited advice- the “unsolicited” part.  And of course I’m not referring to family or close friends- it’s their job to give you unsolicited advice, because they’re more apt to “get through” to you in their approach, as well as knowing you well enough to give relevant advice.

And “relevant” is an important word.  Because part of the reason unsolicited advice is so obnoxious is that it’s often irrelevant to to us.

There are many times in my life where I really want someone’s advice.  So I ask for it, specifically from the people who I believe have the most intuition and wisdom on the subject.  The irony of receiving unsolicited advice is that the people most likely and eager to give it are often the ones who I would never ask anyway.

Which means sometimes I have to stay strong to resist from giving others advice when they haven’t asked for it, lest I be “that guy”.

It all comes down to a social cue that many people feel is disregarded- like their personal life is being intruded upon when someone gives me advice they didn’t ask for.  Because giving advice (warranted or not) is a form of giving criticism.  And when it comes to receiving criticism, most people aren’t truly that open to it- unless they are directly asking a specific trusted individual for it.

Granted, there are times when people put themselves in a situation that invites advice, indirectly.  Any kind of public facebook message will do the trick.  Anything I write about on my site is always open to criticism and advice; that’s why I allow comments.  I like hearing others’ perspectives on raising a kid and I welcome comments on my “dad from day one series”.  That’s intended as a shared experience.

But it’s those people in our “outer circles” that tend to be the key offenders.  The ones most likely to bring to your attention that you’ve gained some weight, got a big zit on your forehead, are starting to lose your hair,  or announce in front of everyone that you appear to be in a bad mood.  These people obviously don’t intend to offend us; they honestly mean well.

It’s just that no one taught them basic social behavior lessons.  And the thing is, they’ll probably never get a clue.  So what do I do when I get unsolicited advice from a person who isn’t too keen on social clues?  Give ‘em a half-sincere smile, shake my head “yes”, and change the subject.

And I’ve also noticed that these same people so eager to help us are often the most likely to go into details about their personal life, telling everyone stories that no one asked to hear.  They are eager to “help” us because they need help themselves.

I guess ultimately, being given uninvited advice is in a way like someone telling you who to be.  And for those of us who definitely know who we are, it’s if nothing else, plain annoying, to be told we are going to become like someone else who lives their own life by a different code.

There’s something that keeps us from wanting someone else to be able to figure us out.  It’s accurate to say that there’s nothing truly new under the sun.  But still we thrive on the freedom to live life as an individual, not based on both the idiots and geniuses who have done this thing before us.

P.S.  By the way, in my opening I had to use fruitcake as a universal example that most people would relate to- when in fact, I am actually a big fan of fruitcake.