Fiction Or Nonfiction: Who Cares?

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The world of books, it seems, is divided at the top into two categories, fiction and nonfiction

But, as both a reader and an author, I don’t experience books that way and I don’t separate what I desire to write that way.

I do, however, have my own divide. I separate books into:

  • Ones that tell you what to do, and
  • Ones that are what to do

Ones that tell you what to do are the far easier ones to write, because much of the value is in the information, not the telling. My last book, Career Renegade, fell into that category.

Ones that ARE what to do raise the bar. Because it becomes more about the craft than the information. They must be so compelling, so engaging, so rich with color, sound, sense, smell, story and craft that the very reading of the book is what satisfies.

Then, there’s a rarely seen third type. The hybrid.

These are books that, if you never acted beyond reading them, would have been worth the investment many times over. They’re almost always driven by story. And, even though they’re not overtly prescriptive, they illuminate the human condition and agitate emotion and movement on a visceral level, creating an experience that transcends the book itself and pulls you to do something to in some way to change the status quo.

Books like Three Cups Of Tea, The Kite Runner, The Tipping Point or Memoir of a Boy Soldier to name a few.

Fiction, nonfiction…doesn’t really matter. When people ask what I write or read, I don’t have an answer. I read books that in some way leave me different than when I began.

And, these rare hybrids are the ones I aspire to cultivate the craft, the life-experience and the soul to one day pen.

If your book is your just a calling card on steroids, that’s cool. It serves a specific purpose in your bigger business plan. That’s important. Nothing wrong with that.

But, for me, I want what I write increasingly to not just be the lead into a marketing funnel, I want what I write to eventually be the very embodiment of the experience being sought. The beginning, the middle and the end. And, that applies to books, essays, blog posts and beyond.

It’ scary as hell to say that out loud. And to be blessed with a big enough community to know people are listening.

I’m sure not there yet. Could be years or decades before I am.

Dunno. But, there you go.

How about you?

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16 responses

16 responses to “Fiction Or Nonfiction: Who Cares?”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by remarkablogger, Isabel Joely Black, Alisa Bowman and others. Alisa Bowman said: RT @JonathanFields Fiction Or Nonfiction: Who Cares? [blog post] […]

  2. Very well said, and I couldn’t agree more.

    A book or a blog that engages me on a visceral level with stories and images can be so inspiring to me, and it’s so different from the more prescriptive kind of book – with its bullet points and rules.

    I find myself needing both, but it’s the prose that seeps into my awareness – using artfully chosen words and images – that really has the power to change the way I live.

    I am loving the work of Mark Nepo right now for just this reason. His words are wise and beautiful without being bossy.

  3. Mike Piper says:

    In the business realm, I can’t help but think of Seth’s Purple Cow as a great example of both telling you what to do and showing you.

    Right there in your hands as you read the book is a physical example of exactly what he’s talking about. The book has a strange, memorable name. It’s tiny and funny looking (though beautiful).

    Also, Aaron Shepard’s Aiming at Amazon as a guide for self-publishers. It speaks specifically to how to market a self-published book on Amazon, and he does a darned good job of that himself with the marketing of that very book. Between the respectable sales ranks for his books and the positive reviews, a potential reader can’t help but see that he knows what he’s talking about.

  4. I absolutely relate to your point about it being scary to say what we truly want out loud – especially when it could potentially affect income. Something in us seems to always tug at us and keep us on the ‘safe’ path, yet it feels like there is a growing movement toward writing that embodies the experience as you described.

    The books (and blogs) that I read this year that blew my mind were ones in which the author/s lived these experiences out in the open and grew threw the process. Those who shared the successes along with the challenges and screw ups without being overly preachy rose to the top. They are the ones that captured my attention, and are ultimately the people that I will support with my time, my energy, my money, etc.

    I’m really excited about your new book, Jonathan! Based on what you’ve been talking about lately, it will certainly be incredible.

  5. Kevin Taylor says:

    Like many, I read for information and for pleasure. Isn’t it wonderful when a book or article can provide both?

    As far as business books go, several of Patrick Lencioni’s stand out to me in this regard, “Getting Naked” being my current favorite.

  6. Anne Wayman says:

    Jonathan, you are closer than you think you are… your writing here often, not always, but fairly often falls into that third category.

    Not sure I totally grok the three categories… totally get the third one, but the other two???? How to is pretty clear, but I also love escape fiction, or have until recently. Am finding it harder and harder to get lost in it… ahhh change.

  7. caitlyn says:

    Yup. Okay. What’s with the years or decades disclaimer? As far as I can see you are talking about your gut-felt aspiration and then you slow it down. I know you know what I’m sayin’ ’cause you’re sayin’ it all the time! Feel it – and then come on over to website and count the number of times I do the disclaimer! 😉

  8. What a useful distinction, Jonathan: TELL you what to do vs. ARE what to do. I suppose I’ve thought in terms of those categories without giving names to them, so it’s good that you have. Some that come to mind that ARE what to do are: Ignore Everybody, by Hugh MacCleod, Mindset, by Carol Dweck, and Rules of Thumb, by Alan Webber. I will check out Purple Cow, mentioned by one of your readers today. (And speaking of Seth, thanks for your link to him today via tweet.) Good of you to connect today, as most people take the day off. Well done! All the best for a great holiday. Susan

  9. Steve DeVane says:

    In training to be a life coach, I learned about the three levels of listening. The first is just hearing the words. The second is putting yourself in the other person’s place and relating to them on a new level. The third transcends those to the point that you’re almost outside the conversation and relating on a spiritual level.
    It sounds to me that you are attempting to write in such a way to make the conversation between you and the reader move almost immediately to that third stage. That is a worthy goal for a true writer.

  10. Joel says:

    “I read books that in some way leave me different than when I began.”

    I love that Jonathan. The more I write, the more I realize that I want to convey meaningful information by crafting stories that display it rather than just “telling” it. It’s more interesting & a lot more fun :).

  11. I agree with Steve DeVane and his comments on what you are doing….good for you and to relate on a spiritual level is bliss!
    Jah Bless,

  12. Great post, Jonathan! It came at a good time, as I’m in the process of completing an ebook and am planning a second one.

    The key thing for me as a reader are two question: ‘Does this book inspire me?’ and ‘Does this book change the way I think?’

    Books that just tell me what to do maybe useful, but they’re soon forgotten.

    Books that are born from the sweat and tears of an author, that tell inspiring stories, that call me to action, that make me cry and laugh, that change the way I see the world – yes, those books are unforgettable.

    That’s the kind of book I aspire to write.

    I echo what Jonathan says – it may take a couple of decades to get there.

  13. Jonathan,

    I love this unabashedly passionate post. I concur on all levels. It’s exciting to read your work right HERE, and I am grateful to have “stumbled across” you and what you do here in Digi-land this year. One of the best presents I could have asked for, because it’s the kind that keeps on giving.
    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year full of joy and excitement to you, my friend.

    Best wishes,


  14. Farnoosh says:

    Jonathan, I love good fiction – the classics are my favorites. Not just the plot but the writing voice and style and richness which does not repeat itself in modern fiction quite as well. Nonetheless, I read all types of books. I love a great business book if it’s told in the style of a fable – I tend to remember it so well – and I do read modern fiction if I can connect on some level with the story. But books aside, I think we can put what you say here into everything, not just books; we can put it into the information products that we create for our audience and into ebooks and guides for our readers – “I want what I write to eventually be the very embodiment of the experience being sought. ” <== brilliant. I like it!

  15. […] does matters, similar to what Jonathan Fields points out in his post, “Fiction or Nonfiction: Who Cares?”, is that our writing style might just need to evolve with the times because we do care, i.e., […]

  16. Blaine says:

    I 100% agree with Peter above about everything you do, I also stumbled across your site and thankful I did. Have a safe and Happy New Year to all.