On the morning after the creative nonfiction conference, while sitting on my sister’s deck, I write in my journal the following sentence: The ancient tree is summer full.
If it’s true that Picasso would finish a painting, find in it the one line or shade or dimension that strikes him as true and beautiful, absorb it, and then move on to the next painting, then this sentence is my Picasso moment. I love this sentence.
The ancient tree is summer full.
Loving words, sentences, transitions, paragraphs, completed pieces, and the whole process is what makes a writer.
Love, and fearlessness.
What I learn at the conference includes that creative nonfiction is the fastest-growing genre in publishing, law, medicine, science and history. The creative is story; nonfiction is accurate substance.
Writing the best creative nonfiction takes immersing yourself in a subject that interests you, then not thinking about the point you want to make,
Think instead about the story that will lead the reader in that direction.
The night before I write my sentence about the tree, there is a cookout on the deck. It’s a high deck, long and wide, big enough for two full tables of people, lots of chairs, and a grill. Five of my six siblings, some nieces and nephews, an aunt and uncle mingle then settle then mingle some more. We start out with chips and dip and awkward conversation and by night’s end are laughing uproariously. It’s one story after another, punctuated with sarcasm and self-deprecation. I don’t laugh anywhere the way I laugh with my family in Pittsburgh.
I want to remember these moments forever.
Because if I ever write a memoir, I will want to be able to “pull on the memory string” and, throughout my drafts, “look for the beating heart.”
“Memoir is ‘the truth,’ artfully arranged,” a workshop leader says.
On day two of the conference, we talk business. How to pitch stories, get an agent, build your brand, your platform, your media presence. “Twitter is a 24/7 dinner party. Come to it with something to talk about, be irreverent, be engaging,” says Saeed Jones of Buzzfeed. I think, I will come to this party when I know the difference between @ and a hashtag. First I will write.
Which brings me to the best part of the conference, the session on launching a new project. The presenter is Anjali Sachdeva, director of educational programs at Creative Nonfiction magazine. Whether an essay or a book, she says, “Write a draft, then ask yourself: why do I want to tell this story, and why now?” After the draft, look at it and identify what the theme or takeaway is. What is the most interesting part of this story, and what percentage of this draft is about this? How much page space is devoted to it?
Before you spend time on a book, ask, who will buy it? Who’s the reader? Are you really prepared to spend three years of your life on it?
A book? Maybe not. An article? Most definitely. I hear about a planned book on Pittsburgh neighborhoods I can send a pitch in to, a reason to write about Garfield. Pull on that memory string.
On my last day in Pittsburgh for the time being, my sister and I play Upwords. I don’t know anybody except my sisters who play this game. I exasperate my sister, my host, when I play words that make it harder to play other words. Like when I put an ‘a’ in front of ‘maze.’
“What am I supposed to do with that?” she says, amazed.
I play ‘corm’ and she shoots me a look. “It’s the root ball of a flower, a particular flower.” I wish I could remember the name of this flower.
“Alright,” she says, “I believe you.”
As I’m driving away from her house, I see irises in somebody’s yard. Iris is the word I was looking for.
It’s always great when the words come to you.