Working at Writing

My brain has been tied up with writing for the past two days. I have this essay which I intend to submit to a contest. The deadline is Dec 31st and the essay is not ready yet. I’ve known about the contest since last spring, but it was only in November that I found the right stories and concepts for the essay. I wrote a draft in early December, but yesterday I had one of those moments where I could see how the ideas were right but the presentation was all wrong. The insight was due to some good feedback from an alpha reader. Many thanks are due there.

My original draft told the story. My new draft is wrapping the concepts around scenes of the story. I am attempting to show rather than tell. This proves difficult because the scenes have to be from my own relevant experiences. There is only a limited amount of rearranging I am allowed to do for narrative convenience. The line between creative nonfiction and complete fabrication is narrow. I keep re-writing and re-adjusting as I go; trying to find the right arrangements of words to communicate the ideas. Even as I forge forward toward a complete draft, I am aware that there are errors I am missing. I’m going to have to go back through the whole thing to check for tense drift. I simply can’t focus properly on tense matching while I’m working on structure.

Writing this essay has been hard. I haven’t had a writing experience this intensive since I wrote the story to submit for a DAW anthology in 2007. Part of it is writing to a deadline and really wanting the work to be my best. Another part of the intensity is the subject matter. I really care about what I am trying to say. This effort is forcing me to push deeper and write longer than I usually do. I am learning a lot from the experience. Naturally I hope that the essay is accepted and published as the DAW story was. However, even if it is not I will still have succeeded.

2 thoughts on “Working at Writing”

  1. First, I admire your honest description of writing. It is always a struggle, and the only way to succeed is to labor through the struggle.
    But I was struck by your remark that “The line between creative nonfiction and complete fabrication is narrow.” True creative nonfiction has nothing whatsoever in common with fabrication of any kind. The best creative nonfiction writers are as uncompromising on this issue as the best newspaper reporters or historians. The “creative” aspect of the work is in its organization and its use of narrative techniques, such as scenes and dialogue, that are usually found in fiction. The “nonfiction” part of the term is inflexible and not negotiable. For a great survey of creative nonfiction writing, I suggest “Literary Journalism” edited by Norman Sims and “The Art of Fact” edited by Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda. I highly recommend “The New New Journalists” by Robert S. Boynton, a book of interviews with many of the best living creative nonfiction writers. They explain their reporting techniques and their approaches to writing, and many go to great lengths to explain that nothing is ever fabricated.
    I wish you well on your assignment. Keep writing!

  2. Excellent point. I too try to keep it all factual. However when I’m retelling a conversation from memory, I can’t remember the exact words used for every sentence. I try to make sure that the words on the page are true to the experience and accurate to the conversational style of the person who said them, but I do have to fill in the gaps. That “filling in the gaps” can be much like “making things up” if I am not constantly careful.

    Thank you for the book suggestions. I’ll have to go check those out.

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