The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Avoiding It

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This happens on occasion when you’re writing:  You start writing something, and you start like a house on fire.  You’ve got extravagant plans for what will no doubt become a masterful piece, and you work for a while getting it there, or taking those first few steps.  There’s joy and exuberance, and it’s coming relatively easily to you.  And then you drop it.  There’s something in the writing that you don’t want to get at, can’t get at for lack of ability, or just don’t get at for a million different reasons.  That’s where I’m at right now.

I’ve had this idea for a story for well over a year now, but didn’t start on it until last semester’s Creative Writing class was drafting their final exam project.  I tried to start it earlier, and even pitched the idea to a group of students I was working with, but they favored a different story, a piece of fiction that I wrote the pitch for in about 30 seconds.  Their interest was so unexpected that I decided to write that different story.  And I did.  I’m still waiting to hear back about it being picked up for publication.

The story under consideration right now, though, is nonfiction, which I haven’t really been writing much of in the past few years–at least not narrative nonfiction.  I grew tired of narrative nonfiction a few years back (probably when I was writing my thesis), and decided that I needed to work on learning fiction so I could use that more in my Creative Writing classes.  So that’s what I’ve been doing.  In fact, I’ve come to pretty much loathe one particular form of narrative nonfiction:  Memoir.

When I started at Northwestern, it was all about memoir to me.  I dug the idea of telling my own stories as I learned how to write.  I was mystified for a while about why I couldn’t get them published, though, and I really wanted to get things published.  Pretty soon, I started to understand that memoir all too often is masturbation.  Who the hell cares about your particular story, unless you are a person of some renown?  I sure as hell would read Bobby Knight’s memoir, or Pete Townsend’s, or Quentin Tarentino’s, or dozens of other people who I find compelling and who have no doubt had significant experiences in their lives that I would find interesting and want to learn more about.  Hell, Frank McCourt cranked out a damn interesting trilogy of memoirs, most of which had to do with teaching, and I ate those up.

But my own story?  No, thanks.  Too self-serving.  Too much of using the page as therapy.  Plus, I can’t deny an interesting circumstance:  Once I stopped writing about myself, I started getting published.

This issue came up a few weeks ago when I attended a workshop led by Ana Castillo, herself a memoirist of some renown (it’s worth noting, though, that she’s a multi-genre writer).  I even posed the question:  Why memoir?  Who the hell cares about my story?  What ensued was a long discussion about the purposes behind writing memoir (not everyone does it to be published), and the differences between writing memoir and personal essays.  The discussion was worth the price of admission (it was a free workshop, so I can’t complain).  What I came to realize (and I suspect I kind of knew this already) was that my latest piece is really a personal essay, which can certainly be included under the umbrella of narrative nonfiction but is markedly different than memoir.

So having settled on the fact that I’m NOT writing memoir, I’ve given myself clearance to do some more work on the story.  Somehow, this hasn’t resulted in me doing any more work on it.  Myabe what I’ve realized, then, is that it’s not the mode of nonfiction that is nagging at me, but that there’s something in the writing that I’m not wanting to get at.

Still, I’m blessed with being able to teach a pair of Creative Writing classes each school year, and have been pretty pleased with my results of late when I’ve been writing along with my students.  They’re ramping up to some long-form writing right now, so maybe if I ramp up along with them, things will start to take off again with this piece.  Who knows?  Maybe it will sit in mothballs for a while until I uncover it and say to myself, “Hmmmm…  that’s not half bad…” and then begin writing it again.  That’s been a fiction writing pattern of mine for some time now.  Maybe that virulence has seeped into my nonfiction practices.

Maybe I should stop pissing and moaning about things and put some words down on paper.

It’s a funny thing, writing.

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Written by seeker70

February 16, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] addition to all this, I’ve been hoping to score with the personal essay I wrote last winter, but no dice there.  I’ve sent it out to about a half dozen publications, but […]


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