The Difference Between Creative Writing and Technical Writing—Eating Pigeons

What do you think a pigeon would taste like? Would it be dark meat or white meat? Do they fly as much as ducks or geese? That would mean dark meat. Do they mostly walk around on sidewalks and window ledges? Then perhaps some white meat.

The stereotype of the starving artist has discouraged many potential fiction writers. In a biography about the science fiction writer Philip Dick, I read a story about his starving writer period when he was cranking out potboilers. According to the story, he was taking pot shots at pigeons on his window ledge for food.

From an early age I read voraciously and wanted to be a writer. When I was younger, I read a lot of stories by science fiction authors like Philip Dick. I took a creative writing course in high school, and thought that I would take the literary writing path.

After evaluating a few schools, I ended up at Old Dominion University in 1992, because it had a strong creative writing program. At the time, the Associated Writer’s Program, an organization that supports writers and creative writing programs, was located on campus. (It has since moved to George Mason University, which from what I understand now has a strong program of its own.)

I started in Old Dominion’s creative writing program, taking an introductory writing course and a literary writing workshop. The head of the program, and my instructor for both courses, disputed the whole notion of suffering as a requirement for being a fiction writer. He was fond of saying, “If you need to suffer, put your hand on a table, raise a book over hand, and then drop the book. Now, that you got the suffering out of the way, you can focus on the writing.”

That should have been reassuring, and it was a little. Nevertheless, as a I progressed through the program, the fact that I would need to money to eat began to gnaw away at me. I started to think about eating pigeons. I prefer dark meat, but wrangling pigeons on window ledges made writing fiction for a living much less appealing.

Faced with the prospect of shooting pigeons on the window ledge for food, I decided to set aside the literary writing dream and exchanged it for the practical, stable career path of technical writing. I had learner the lesson: the difference between literary and technical writing.

I got a BA in professional writing, which was a hodge podge of different writing courses, including creative writing but also including technical writing and journalism. Besides, I thought I could still do the fiction bit part-time.

I went on to take an internship as a technical writer, which led to a technical writing job after I graduated. Eventually, my fulltime career moved from technical writing to marketing. I tried writing fiction on the side. I suppose some writers have been successful going down that path.

If writing literary fiction on the side had worked for me, however, I probably wouldn’t have a web site call “Unpublished Guy.” Would I have been the next John Updike? Probably not. Barely Published Guy?

So how does pigeon taste? I’ve heard it described as very dark meat with the texture of liver, but I guess it depends on where you eat it.