On Writing Process with Nancy Kim

by Anca Szilagyi

This Wednesday at 7 pm, Nancy Kim will read her essay “My Piles.” We did a little q&a with Nancy about her writing process.

The Furnace: Is the writing process different for you when writing fiction vs. nonfiction? How?

NK: I write fiction more often. It’s part of my routine or at least I’ve prescribed it to be. It’s work. Really hard work that I return to time and time again because of, you know…that thing De Beers invented—indestructible love.

I have a tendency to write nonfiction in a flash. It’s not premeditated. I don’t sit down to write nonfiction. It sort of sits me down.

The difference between them? I think of it like this:

When I write fiction, I go with my gut. When I write nonfiction, I am gut. Literally, that’s all that I am—guts.

With fiction, there’s plot (usually), a series of decisions that need to be made, and all of those decisions are motivated by what is true to that story—its characters, landscape, language, all of those lovely things that stick to the bones of what you’re trying to say.

Sure, you can be indecisive, just like you can in life, but then more likely than not, you end up chasing your tail. Why? Because you couldn’t choose which scent you wanted to follow.

For me, nonfiction is the scent. It’s what you produce. And it’s organic, that produce. It sounds easy, like some kind of emission, but it’s just the opposite—it’s the hardest thing in the world. “Who wants to hear about my dental work? So what, I never met my grandparents?”

Oh, yeah, and there’s also that big problem of trying not to hurt people you love.

You know, with fiction, it’s like: “Mom, I know that character sounds exactly like you, but it’s clear that she’s not you because…you have a different name. And, bonus point: you’re not blonde.”

And with nonfiction: “Mom, we have a problem.”

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