It was good to come across this blog for readers of Creative Nonfiction. While aimed at readers, it’s packed with useful resources, tips and links for the nonfiction writer.
I’m wrestling at the moment with my manuscript that is based on true events and deals with a West of Ireland historical crime in the nineteenth century. The research is done and the task now is to dramatise the story using fiction techniques.
This blog is helping me through the maze. Read more here.
Interested in hearing from any writers out there who are working through a creative nonfiction story.
I fret about writing a sentence: whether to make it concise, minimalist and pared-down or, exuberant and rhythmic to match the tone. Are the rules that dictate brevity and concreteness enduring? My new year resolution was to craft the best sentences I could.
Adam Haslett’s feature ‘The Art of Good Writing’ is one of the best pieces I’ve read about the sentence dilemma in the ungovernable activity of writing. He looks at the forthcoming book from Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One.
He quotes from William Trevor’s story ‘A Day’ to illustrate how the aural effect and rhythm of a sentence matches the pathology of his character.
Haslett counts himself among those readers who fell in love with literature not by becoming enthralled to books but ‘by discovering individual sentences whose rhythm and rhetoric was so compelling they couldn’t help but repeat them’.
Only a day to go and I will start over. Another year. Another set of writing resolutions: nonfiction manuscript to finish; dig through more research; get back to writing morning pages.
But an image has dogged me. A child in ringlets scraping a nib across a school copybook in a first attempt at joined up writing. Every letter, every word, every sentence laboriously built.
And I know that this should be my writing resolution: to craft and shape each sentence and make it as crisp and pure and strong as I possibly can.
Hemingway favoured short minimalist sentences with vigorous verbs. You can read about his 5 tips for writing well here.
So this is my simple writing resolution. To go and craft the best sentences I can. Easier said than done, you might say. Maybe you have advice on how to make great sentences?
Thoughtful and provocative suggestions in this Blog on starting and keeping a writing routine.
Summed up in make it your goal that you will START to write.
Maybe you have suggestions to add.
I’ve nothing to say.
What would I write about anyhow?
My grammar would be all wrong.
They’d laugh at me.
All this at a recent writing class. And then there was a tea-break and the chat and the story-telling started and could have gone on all night.
So you want to write but just can’t work up the courage?
Here’s a list of a half-dozen tips I’ve picked up along the way. Maybe they’ll help you to get started on the writing or to keep going.
You are a camera: You can try this anywhere – in a place you know really well, in a doctor’s waiting room, in your back garden. Write a detailed description of the scene. Another approach is to take an actual photo of the scene or place, go away and write about it from the photo. This approach can work well with old photos that conjure up vivid memories.
Tune in to what people around you are saying. I visited a chiropodist once who talked non-stop and very vividly about her young children. I tuned in to rhythm of her sentences and as soon as I left wrote down as much as I could remember. Soon after I made a poem of my notes, keeping lots of the turns of phrase she had used.
Write your stories like you talk. To begin with write down your stories like you tell them. This will get you started. A good idea is to keep your stories filed by the actual year in which they happened. This gets you started on building up a memoir file.
Imagine your daily life is in a foreign country. Carry a notebook around with you. Imagine you are traveling in a foreign place (Deena Metzger suggestion) and want to capture everything you see and experience. Record it all. Add in dialogue, your own thoughts, feelings, memories evoked …
- Write a letter. This is great writing practice and can draw out memories and storytelling well as re-connecting with friends and family.
- Fix a writing time and place. I write first thing in the morning, in an upstairs room that looks straight out at a chestnut tree where the yellow leaves are swirling down in the rain right now as I write. Fix a time and keep the appointment.
As Stephen King once said, you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start (writing), you will.
Have you any tips to share with would-be writers?
Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande. Hard to believe this book was first published in 1934, such is its freshness. Brande believes ‘that becoming a writer is mainly a matter of cultivating a writer’s temperament’. She steps the reader through practical ways to build such a temperament.
Writing Short Stories, Alisa Cox. Not a rigid ‘this is the way to do it’, this book is about spinning a yarn in many different ways and the theme running through of the relationship between the cinema and the short story is fascinating.
How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N Frey. The sub-title to this book tells it all: ‘A Step-by-stp no nonsense guide to dramatic storytelling’. Even if you’ve no interest in doing that novel, you will get great tips on producing dynamic prose. In summary, he says, ‘your prose should have time, color, textural density, convey a sense of motion, appeal to the senses…’
Writing Creative Nonfiction, eds Carolyn Forche and Philip Gerard. This book works by having a section on the art and craft of creative nonfiction and its various sub-genres followed by a selection of excerpts from a wide variety of contemporary writers. And the hairy chestnut of truthfulness in the genre is well covered.
The Making of a Poem by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland. If you’ve ever wrestled with poetic form in writing or reading poems, this book makes it all so simple. The approach is to take the form (Villanelle, Sestina, Ballad …..) and summarise it in a few bullet points, give a short bit of history and then show the form being used by contemporary poets.
Writing for Success, Patricia O’Reilly. A no-nonsense gallop through pages of practical advice on the publishing process across the spectrum of fiction, non-fiction, radio and print journalism. A great resource book to have to hand.
That’s my list then. I’ll pile all these books back on the shelf now and then get on with it – the writing, that is.
I’ve been re-reading Dorothea Brande’s book , On Becoming a Writer. Hard to believe the Chicago woman was born in 1893 and published her classic on writing and creativity in 1934. It’s an easy read and you could almost get through it at one sitting.
What makes the book refreshing is that it’s not about the nuts and bolts and techniques of writing but more about the temperament and attitude of the would-be writer or, as John Gardener says in his introduction: ‘This book is all about the writer’s magic.’
I first read this book about five years ago and can see that I have most underlines in the Chapter ‘Learning to see again’. Brande recommends that, for a half an hour each day, we transport ourselves back to the state of the wide-eyed innocence that was ours at the age of five or so. She calls this ‘the experience of fresh seeing’, like turning yourself into a stranger in your own street so that you are seeing and hearing everything through fresh eyes.
But it’s not just the fresh seeing that is important for Brande, it’s letting the unconscious work its magic on this material through assimilation and accretion, allowing it in its own time to feed into one’s writing. She believes that the unconscious is the home of shape and form and can see types and patterns that the intellect misses.
So today I’ll practice ‘fresh seeing’ and start with the fierce magpies in the chestnut tree in my back garden and the blackbirds that I know will be doing their best to steal what’s left of the loganberry crop.