I’ve recently joined a writer’s workshop, and I am really struggling with the current weeks writing exercise. It’s a form I’ve never written before – creative non-fiction, and I am deeply conflicted about whether or not to push through the difficulties I am facing.
On the one hand, it would be good for me to stretch my writers mind a bit, tackle a new genre, see how it fits in with what I already know how to do and where it’s different.
On the other hand – I’m not interested in it. I’ve read over the exercise, read a bit on the side about the form, churned out about 200 words to give it a try, and I am just not interested. I don’t think I’d ever write this kind of stuff, and I certainly haven’t been interested in it when I’ve read it. Though I’ll probably go back and read a bit more, now that I know I’m looking at a discrete genre.
I’m fairly certain that I’ll come down on the side of actually finishing up the piece I’ve started, and polishing up to submit to the group, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you why that’s what I’m going to do. Self discipline, a commitment to craft, yeah yeah yeah. But really – I just don’t know.
As a writer of creative non-fiction, I’m left very curious about the exercise you were given.
No reason why you or anyone else should like this form or any other, but I wonder if creative non-fiction has been rather narrowly construed. Although it has a new name, and some new types, really creative non-fiction includes some very old forms, like memoir and personal travel logs.
I also write fiction and have written straight-out, informative non-fiction. Both are easier in many ways than this melding of the two. In creative non-fiction, the writing ought to have the depth of character, scene and action that fiction has, and yet stay within clear bounds of “really happened.” Now that many authors write novelized versions of the lives of famous people, this has become sticky. But c n-f is not limited to that form.
But, again, no reason you should like it particularly. And if you don’t like to read it, I guess it’s not surprising you don’t like to write it. So kudos on trying to stretch.
You can read the exercise I am working on here: http://www.internetwritingworkshop.org/pwarchive/pw171.shtml
Blending the two styles is what’s kicking me here — I know what I would do with this piece if I were writing it as a short story, and I know what I would do with it if I were writing it as a restaurant review or profile.
Right now I keep staggering back and forth between something that reads like unsatisfying short fiction or purple prose journalism.
I keep telling myself – it doesn’t need to be good. It just needs to be done.
O.k., I’ll go read the exercise…
I guess you’ve point out the reason I read (and write) c nf. I am energized by straddling boundries and hybridizing forms.
But you’re sure right. It just needs to be done.
When I was an grad student, my professor dad passed on this advice that he always gave to students who were struggling to finish a thesis or dissertation: Do the minimum possible to graduate.
He wasn’t an educational philistine but worked under the idea that students were at the beginning of a long career. They should stop trying to put everything in their student work, but finish it, graduate, get out there and keep on publishing.
I still think it is great advice and have passed it on to my students…
BTW, When I taught c nf in nature writing course, I used Josip Novakovich’s _Fiction Writer’s Workshop_ as a text, but students had to apply the techniques to more or less scientific topics. So I guess I really expected them to cross those boundaries.
Ok, I looked at the exercise and was immediately struck by an unnecessary limitation. They want you to write about another person from an interview. While, yes, this is probably the most common form of c nf, it may not be the best for you.
C nf can be about the stuff that interests you (food, knitting, travel etc.) with yourself as narrator and without it being memoir, exactly. Just rewrite your blog posts with more sensory, show-don’t-tell detail and you have it.
If you do the interview thing (which seems necessary for the exercise), maybe make yourself (the interviewer) one of the characters and the person interviewed the other. Use the action of your approach, scene where interview took place, appearance and body language of the two of you, the interview as dialog. Communicate the story with that, with the information content of the interview played down.
Or set it in the form of the fiction genre you like best from the pov of an impersonal, external narrator.
Cheers from a starved-for-teaching, procrastinating writer.
I skipped a formal interview – instead looked back to a series of recent get togethers I’d had with a friend where we talked about her job. It worked well, and I think I did okay on the exercise – I’ll find out from the crit’s I get, I suppose.
The process was interesting — I wrote out the piece as if I were writing a journalism piece, then took it apart and re-arranged/re-wrote it as if I were editing a short story. It was a little awkward, but it worked.
I’ll have to look for the Novakovich book — I don’t generally like books about writing, but the clarion workshop book I’m reading right now is amazing, and I know that I like the workshop process.
I’m the sadist who dreamed up that exercise, and got it in shape for
posting with the help of my colleagues Grace and Ruth. It certainly
worked in your case! Your piece may not be perfect–nothing ever
is–but it’s a good try, and the bones are there for something
publishable. For a first effort, it’s very good indeed.
The reason the exercise specifically ruled out memoir was that we
have several memoir exercises already–one formal and a few others,
like the current one, that essentially qualify as memoir. Nowadays
most of the CNF I see outside big-circulation newspapers and
magazines is memoir; “Brevity,” one of the big names in online
mags, publishes almost entirely memoir these days:
http://www.creativenonfiction.org/brevity/index.htm I wanted
people to go back to the roots of CNF, which is essentially an
expository essay in which the author comes out from behind the
Probably 80 percent of our exercises involve writing fiction, and 80
percent of our members are fiction writers. But stretching is good,
and it’s one of our aims. Giving our Non-F members a chance to strut
their stuff occasionally in only fair. In any case, don’t
despair–next week’s exercise will be fiction pure and simple.
And I hope the Pataya survives!
Thanks for visiting. I signed up for the practice list precisely to get these kinds of exercises – things that stretch my writing muscles, and get me trying things that I wouldn’t normally think to work with. So you’re doing a great job! Thank you for the effort you put into it – it’s a great resource.