Writing is Everything

December 11, 2017 § 49 Comments

avk_headshot--hair_loose (1)By Ann V. Klotz

These days, not a lot of writing is happening in my life.  Even at the writing retreat I had looked forward to all year, I produced very little; my school needed me—about twelve times—and my family needed me: my adult-ing daughters, my teenage son, my husband.  Finally, I surrendered, realizing I would not be doing as much writing as I had hoped.  We can’t choose when we are needed.  I consoled myself with the idea that perhaps there would something to learn to write about later.  Six weeks post-retreat, the need to write is making itself manifest a million times a day.  Earlier this week, I heard myself saying to my husband, “Yes, right now,” but in my head, I had said, “Yes, write now.”  Writing is everything.

Even when I am not really writing, the rhythms of my life remind me of writing or of not writing.

Awake in the middle of the night, sentences form, but I am too tired to write them down.  In the morning, they are gone, geese honking in formation, headed South.  Who gives the signal to land, drop back, switch formation, I wonder, hearing their honking. A few nights ago, the first freeze descended on our garden.  Beneath the bathroom window, I note the herbs staggering, browned unexpectedly in their pots, branches stretched, desperate supplicants—all the writings I’ve started and abandoned.

Those abandoned projects reproach me. In the family room closet, I discover a bag of knitting, soft black wool shot through with colors–a shawl started long ago on huge needles. Some pieces call me years later, not yet finished, but patient, knowing a burst of inspiration will bring me back.

Stopped at a light, I watch a neighbor raking leaves, piling them at the curb. It’s a Sisyphean task, really.  Rake, rake, scatter.  I remember my Dad burning leaves in a tall metal basket, the smoke delicious at the other end of the garden where I clutch my bamboo rake, its teeth scratching across asphalt as I pretend to be Cinderella dancing with the Prince instead of doing housework for the Stepmother. I think about all the words I wish I had time to pile, one on top of the other.  A gust blows a swirl of leaves into the street: all the pieces that get away.

I walk on the treadmill thinking about habit, how good it is when my writing habit and my exercise habit are integrated in my daily life, how frustrating it is when one or both lapse, how fragile my well-intentioned routines.  “I am not a tumbleweed,” I counsel myself.  “I have agency.  Nothing is stopping me from walking, from writing.  Just get on with it,” I scold myself.  It sounds so easy.

I empty the dishwasher, drive our son to school, tidy piles of books and papers throughout my house, talk to my adult daughters.  I am moving through my life but fretting, too, about my stalled memoir. Am I stuck because I don’t have time to dig in or am I avoiding the hard stuff?

Recently, I came into the kitchen at 5:30 a.m., started the coffee and got ready to feed the dogs.  There, in front of the cabinet where we store kibble, lay a decapitated chipmunk, paws high in the air.  Shrieking, I fled.  On the other side of the swinging door, I felt embarrassed, trapped, helpless.  I wanted to be brave, to cope calmly with this unexpected gift from our cat.  Is the rodent a symbol of the tough stuff I’ve maneuvered around? Is it a call to action? There was no avoiding this corpse. I should not be afraid of small dead things, but I am.  Reluctant, I climbed the stairs and rouse my sleeping husband, who is annoyed.  When he understood the thing was not entirely the thing, he came downstairs.  I needed to do the dishes, feed the dogs, make the coffee, I bleated.  He knew what I needed was his care. I felt guilty and grateful when the small body wrapped in a blue plastic grocery bag was deposited into the kitchen trash.  I spilt the basket of old coffee grounds over it, ashes to ashes, grounds to grounds.

Last Saturday I found myself with several unscheduled hours.  My son was occupied, my husband napping.  Could it be true?  Time to write?  Inclination?  All those weeks flood onto the page, a dam unstopped.  I’m back.
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Ann V. Klotz is a writer in the early hours of the morning and the Headmistress of Laurel School during the rest of the day and night.  Her house is overrun with rescue dogs and tiny cats.  She is trying a “do it yourself MFA” in Creative Nonfiction by taking one online course after the next, ordering too many books to read about craft and too many memoirs to read in one lifetime, studying recently with Kate Hopper and Joelle Fraser, and taking a zen position about the loss of her shift key.

From Scraps to Stories

December 7, 2017 § 30 Comments

A guest post by Anne McGrath

Memories are slippery to hold. Many of what I suspect were my most brilliant story ideas were written on bits of paper too small to keep track of. The tiny notes ended up in the wash, returned in library books, or illegible.

Not any more.

For the past two years I’ve used a deceptively simple system to collect the seeds for stories. My ideas are in a central, easy-to-access place, and the method is enjoyable, helps me pull up things I’d otherwise forget, and is much easier than keeping a detailed journal. I was introduced to the system by novelist Matthew Dicks when I attended his storytelling workshop. As we made up stories on the spot, it was abundantly clear that Matt, a twenty-eight-time Moth StorySLAM winner, had an endless supply of tales to tell. We all wanted to know his secret and he gave it to us. In his TEDx talk, Matt calls his system Homework for Life.

Here’s how it works:

At the end of every day, after I brush my teeth, no matter where I am or how tired I feel, I reflect on the day, asking myself “What happened that was interesting?” It doesn’t have to be anything shocking or fantastic. Matt says many of the best stories are small, “Infinitesimal, really. If it speaks to something about your heart, reflects your experience as a human being, or offers some fundamental truth about who you are.”

Sometimes I list a description of an image or movie I saw, a conversation I overheard, or a personal interaction, typing a kernel of the idea beside the date, in an Excel spreadsheet. You could write it in a notebook, an app like Things (iOS only) or Evernote (all platforms), or Word document, but the spreadsheet comes with lines and boxes and works well for me. It only takes a moment. Most of the notes wouldn’t make sense to anyone else:

  • hawk died
  • what if I never had kids
  • the art of napping
  • no longer know people in People mag
  • when dad’s work bench turned messy
  • birds – make them come to you
  • wearing uniforms
  • computer passwords
  • phantom pony tail

It might not look like much, but this list thrills me. I could turn any one of these ideas into an essay right now. More often than not I don’t so much write about these topics as from them; they stir up sensory memories in the same way music or photos might. When I read these small details they remind me of the big details and it all comes flooding back.

This system has helped me to some of my best writing. Keeping a daily log, I began spotting stories all over the place and living more in the moment, through my senses, because I know I will be reflecting back on events at the end of the day. Memorable lines I would have forgotten, like what the technician said to me when I was in the MRI machine that time, or events that would usually go unnoticed, like the ants moving en masse in Costa Rica, are now stories.

But here’s the most incredible thing I’ve discovered: this habit of collecting ideas has changed something in my mind and how I am in the world. It has instilled in me a sense of patience, made me see with wonder, be more willing to try new things, and look with fresh, curious eyes. The process of writing has become more important than the outcome for me and I feel fortunate every day that I am able to create something. I have stumbled upon things in New York City I might have missed if I was less attentive – an exhibit of Nabokov’s butterflies at the public library, a baby squirrel fallen from its nest in Central Park, the homeless woman outside the subway station who had been a Jackie Gleason dancer. Visceral stories are floating all around us, waiting to be brought to life.

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Anne McGrath lives in the Hudson Valley with her adorable husband, sons, and dogs. Her work has appeared in Antioch University’s Lunch Ticket, Chapman University’s Dirt Cakes, The Caterpillar Magazine, and the One Hundred Voices anthology. She is an assistant contest editor at Narrative Magazine and is pursuing an MFA in creative writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Anne’s short story, “Performing with the Dead,” was featured on NPR’s Listener’s Essay segment and she has participated in story slams at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s former house in Massachusetts, and the Noah Webster House in Connecticut.

“Every essay I write is just an essay” ~ David Lazar

December 6, 2017 § 1 Comment

IMG_0128 - Version 2Julija Šukys continues her interview series “CNF Conversations” this month talking with David Lazar. The discussion focuses on Lazar’s new book, I’ll Be Your Mirror: Essays and Aphorisms. Topics discussed include:  the role of form in writing, lyric vs. lyrical essays, the interview as essay, the changing landscape of creative nonfiction publishing, white space, images, and what it feels like to have earned the first ever Creative Writing PhD in nonfiction.

An excerpt:

I almost never lead with form—it’s not the way my mind works. I start with whatever I’m thinking about and see what kind of trouble I can get into. Before you try to find a way understand what it is you’re trying to defuse, I think it helps to toss in as many monkey wrenches as possible, write the most complicated version of your dilemma, your set of ideas, your confessional conundrum, whatever version of essaying you’re doing. After those feverish early drafts, that’s when form kicks in for me, as a way of creating order, cutting extraneous material, finding the heart of matter.

You can read the full interview here: http://julijasukys.com/?p=4504

Remediation: Creative Revision in the Comp Classroom

December 6, 2017 § 3 Comments

StacyMurison14_005SmallThe second installment of a series of blog essays by Stacy Murison discussing her use of creative nonfiction prompts and approaches in her first-year composition classes.

As we near the end of the semester, my thoughts turn from creation to revision as our composition students complete one last assignment: a Remediation project. This concept was borrowed from rhetoric studies, where students are asked to transform a piece of existing writing into a new medium such as a video essay, or to consider using an existing medium (Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat) to re-imagine their essay in a new format. Remediation in this case is an opportunity for revision of both form and words.

A challenge always is that students can’t imagine returning to work already submitted and graded and sometimes hope this means that they will get a better grade on their first project. When I explain that remediation is an opportunity to imagine their work in a different way, there’s some hesitation. And, by hesitation, I mean groaning.  Like most of us, it’s also difficult initially to imagine exactly how we can revise and improve on our work. For me, I fall in love with the arrangement and emotion of a piece and usually have to step back from an essay for several weeks, or ask a friend to critique it, in order to see clearly revision opportunities. For students, there is some confusion (even this late in the semester) between surface-level editing and a more global revision approach, coupled with the feeling of wanting to move forward with projects, not backward.

I have also heard from students that they don’t often get to write creatively or infuse their own ideas and personality in their work at the college level. I leverage this feeling into a combination of three writing exercises to help students understand the revision process. These exercises are focused on how they tell their own personal stories, which leads into discussions later on how they can use these techniques to revise their essays for the Remediation project.

The first exercise encourages students to write a brief movie trailer about a day in their life. I use YouTube throughout the semester to show students commercials and movie trailers coupled with writing and group activities that help them identify narrative elements, audiences, and appeal techniques. After consuming this type of media all semester, they are primed to write their own trailer. The trailer I show as an example for this exercise is for Jerry Seinfeld’s movie Comedians (2002) and plays with typical movie tropes for action films; part of the humor is that the film is not an action film.

Students can use a “Mad Libs” template I provide or write their own, borrowing the elements from the Comedians trailer or other trailers they’ve seen throughout the semester. I provide index cards so they can write their trailers and set a timer for 5 – 7 minutes. Is their own day-in-a-life story a rom-com? An action film? A comedy? I give examples of a blind date gone wrong, a roommate who chews too loudly, or the pain of waking up for an 8 a.m. writing class. The audience is their classmates and me, who by this time know each other pretty well.

The template looks something like this:

In a (PLACE) where (SOMETHING HAPPENS), one (PERSON) (ACTION). One day (A TURN OF EVENTS). Coming this (SEASON), (MOVIE TITLE).

After they write their trailers on index cards, I shuffle the cards and pass them to another classmate to read. Some students insert dialog and notes on sound effects or cues for the type of music we could expect to hear as part of their written trailer for their reader. Readers will sometimes read in “voice-over” voice. We then guess who wrote the trailer and talk about the identifying elements used and why it might have been easy or difficult to guess the author. This becomes a discussion of their personal writing styles which they have developed over the semester. The exercise introduces a new aspect to consider as they revise a project—who they are in relation to the piece and, because they know their audience, ideas for how to infuse their personality and voice in a new medium.

Students in one of my sections this semester encouraged me to run this exercise as a “true” Mad Libs, where they start writing their story as a trailer and a classmate finishes it. I think this is an excellent idea—it might demonstrate exactly how well the audience knows them, or how to be even more specific in their word choices for an intended audience.

The next exercise involves writing a personal “warning label.” With another round of index cards and five minutes of writing time, I ask them to write a warning label they would wear all day to help others understand how to interact with them. I keep this exercise to 15 words or less—t-shirt slogan-length—and show them some t-shirt images from on-line catalogs such as Signals and Think Geek. We again share these as a class and try to guess who the author is. This exercise helps students distill aspects of themselves and their ideas into a few words—a seemingly impossible task made possible.

The final exercise is a further distillation—the Six-Word Memoir. I have used this writing exercise a few different ways. It works well for the Remediation project because it demonstrates the power of a few well-chosen words. I have also used it for one-minute papers (or “exit tickets”) to check in and see how students are doing in the course overall or with a specific project. For additional fun on the last day of class, I ask the students to write a new six-word memoir that encompasses their journey as a writer throughout the semester.

Re-imagining and repackaging their life stories through the exercises help students access new ideas for potential revision opportunities for their previous projects. Through these exercises, students develop a strong sense of voice, tone, audience, and word choice delivered in active and fun ways that are centered on who they are and how they present themselves. Now they are ready to revisit their previous projects in order to transform their essays into a new medium and with well-crafted and chosen words.

So, what do these projects look like? I had a student reimagine her review of a local pizza restaurant (she thought she could make a better pizza at home) as a Tasty video using her iPhone and posting the video to Facebook. She used the Tasty conventions of an ingredient list and fast-and slow-motion video capture of the pizza making. Another student loved reality television shows and reimagined her review project (a camping trip gone wrong) into a short YouTube video with her roommates as the actors. She followed specific show conventions (Keeping Up with the Kardashians) such as a staged fight and fast-motion photography between scenes. Other students have captured their work in Instagram formats creating new hashtags and writing micro-essays for their photos. Still others use Twitter for a series of connected tweets (or threads) about a specific topic. One student explored folk music for his I-Search project and wrote original lyrics and melody, which he performed in class on his acoustic guitar. Another took his I-Search project on depression and wrote lyrics and a melody, which he recorded to SoundCloud and shared with the class. This type of revision through the Remediation project gives students an opportunity to use platforms they are familiar with and use regularly, as well as showcase their talents. Even students who tell me they are not “creative” have made videos, written hip-hop lyrics, performed comedy routines, or shared photographs on VSCO, Instagram, or Tumblr. As part of the Remediation, students present their work to the class and talk about the choices they made during the revision process.

The results often surprise and humble me, and I think even surprise the students, especially when they hear all of the positive feedback from their classmates during their presentations. Through this entire process, revision is viewed less as an odious task and more as an opportunity for re-invention and re-imagination for both the students themselves and the work they have produced through Remediation.

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Additional Resource  

Tarsa, Becca. Remediation. Digital Rhetoric Collaborative. 25 April 2014. Accessed 1 November 2017 http://www.digitalrhetoriccollaborative.org/2014/04/25/digital-lessons-remediation/

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** Very special thanks to students Carly, Ethan, and Dmitrius for sharing your work with us.

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Stacy Murison received her MFA in Creative Writing from Northern Arizona University where she now teaches composition. Her work can be found in Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog, Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, River Teeth, Hobart, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among others.

Throw Me to the Dogs: Thomas Mira y Lopez and The Book of Resting Places

December 4, 2017 § 2 Comments

41DXDWx+cNL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_By Phillip Russell

The first time I met Thomas Mira y Lopez was at a local bar early on in my first semester of graduate school. We sat and talked about death and cemeteries—how strange it was to own a plot of land for eternity. Little did I know that Tommy had been finishing up revisions for his first collection of essays The Book of Resting Places, a beautiful, quiet, collection that grapples with anxieties surrounding the death of a loved one and the baggage associated with the places we end up leaving them. The book was recently released, and I had the opportunity to talk with Tommy once again:

Phillip: In The Book of Resting Places a key theme revolves around how we place our memories of the deceased into the physical world whether it be a house, tree, grave, or something else. However, the Thomas Mira y Lopez that exists in the book seems conflicted about these yearnings even though this collection, in many ways, is an artifact of that very inclination. What do you make of that paradox?

Thomas: That’s spot on about the paradox. I envisioned the book as not just being about resting places, but also as a resting place itself. The ability to apply both prepositions to book is crucial, I hope. Because where do we memorialize or elegize the lost if not in books? No resting place is eternal—each one has its half-life—and so the knowledge that this book too is a temporary object informed much of what I wrote. As soon as I granted these memories a physical space I was also, in some ways, changing them.

P: The collection deals with a lot of complicated ideas—ideas that don’t have concrete answers to find. What was your initial motive for writing these essays and how did that change once you started putting the pieces together?

T: This book started because I went for a walk in a cemetery one day in New York. I couldn’t say exactly why I was interested in writing about it, but once I started to think about the spaces I have granted the dead in my own life and what type of memories I started to preserve, the ideas kept coming. One decision I had to make was whether the book would be a tour of literal resting places or a thinking through of the death of my father through those spaces, some physical and some metaphorical. I opted for the latter, as it felt like there lied the questions I could resolve the least, so I needed to try and answer them.

P: One of the most interesting aspects of the essays is the mixing of personal experience and rumination about death with research and journalism. In the second essay, “Monument Valley,” you offer an unexpected parallel between an iPhone game of the same name and post-mortem photography to talk about the subjective perspective we have on our loved one’s lives. How did you approach weaving in these researched topics with your personal experience? For instance, did you play Monument Valley and know right away that you’d be talking about it in your book or did those connections come later?

T: Oh man, “Monument Valley” happened because I had to turn my thesis in and my partner, Sarah, told me about the game right before the manuscript was due. I couldn’t stop playing it when I should have been working and I ended up writing about the game for my aesthetic statement. My thesis advisor, Ander Monson, who champions as he puts it “the bad idea essay” suggested turning it into something. As far as the other essays, I’m not always sure how they came about. Part of it was through reading a lot in an attempt to be receptive and part of it was a mania for parallels. I like playing detective: I would come back to some little statement I had taken for granted in the past—my mom’s stated desire to be buried in a storage unit alongside her possessions like the Egyptian pharaohs—and see what leads I could follow.

P: So much of this collection is about how we remember the dead, it makes me wonder, how do you want to be remembered when it’s all said and done?

T: Part of me wants to quote Diogenes, the Greek philosopher, and say throw me to the dogs, who cares, I’ll be dead. But that seems a bit grumpy—Diogenes was a cynic, after all—and so I’ll say that I aim to end up in somewhere that allows whoever is close to me a space to acknowledge the loss and then move on.

P: This project is about endings and what we do with them. Now that it is out in the world, what’s been your biggest take away?

T: It’s a wonderful, thrilling process to publish a book and I’m lucky to work with excellent people who have guided me through it. But it’s also a really conflicted process—”you run the gamut of emotions,” someone just told me, and it’s true. With this particular book, I realized late in the game that it was a way of creating a second life for my father, and so having it out there also requires acknowledging another loss I never expected to occur. I thought publishing a book would mean keeping someone with you, but really it means letting him go. That’s been hard to reckon with.

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Thomas Mira y Lopez has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Arizona. His essays have been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, The Georgia Review, Kenyon Review Online, and The Normal School, among others, and listed as Notables in the Best American Essay series twice. He’s received a fellowship from The MacDowell Colony and a scholarship from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He was 2015-2016 Olive B. O’Connor Fellow at Colgate University and is currently the Kenan Visiting Writer at UNC-Chapel Hill. He’s an editor of Territory, a literary project about maps, and an assistant fiction editor at DIAGRAM.

Phillip Russell is a second year Masters student at Ohio University where he studies Creative Nonfiction. His work has appeared in New River Journal, HyperText Magazine, Burrow Press, Writer’s Digest, and more.

 

 

 

Dear Muse

December 1, 2017 § 22 Comments

mulloyBy Marla Mulloy

Write a letter to your muse, my writer friend said, in answer to my sad, self-loathing, whine about the writing life.  So I did.  I was mad.

Dear Muse,

I haven’t heard from you for a long time.  I wonder, are you having a nice time on your little holiday?  You must be having a holiday; you are certainly not paying any attention to me.  Perhaps you are on a beach somewhere in the sun, reading something that someone has actually written?  Or maybe you are simply watching people cavort in the sand or wander by the ice cream store, bored silly by my procrastination and delusion.   I realize I wasn’t the easiest charge you’ve had.  I realize I was hard to motivate, boring to watch.  Most likely, you are in my living room sitting in that chair that I placed near the small table where I put the candles and the incense and made space for my yoga mat, under the hanging branches of the Norfolk pine.  You are occupying that chair that I placed in this inspirational place for the purpose of writing.  Yes, likely you are there, grinning at me as I try to be a writer, waiting for me to just sit down and write.  I know I need to do this every day.  I know.  Many great writers have told me this lately, in their own writing.  It is not magic, it is discipline.  It is loving the discipline and then reveling in the magic of it.

I lived in Niagara on the Lake one summer, actually two summers, but one in particular involved writing.  I wrote three stories that summer.  I wrote and rewrote them by hand.  On paper.  With a pen.  I spent afternoons in the Niagara on the Lake library looking up places and facts.  I did research.  At a library.  In books.  I wrote about what I knew.  Fathers and daughters.  Infidelity.  And the clumsiness which is sometimes present in finding balance in a new relationship.  I was purposeful and true.  I even brought one of those stories, submitted it actually, to a writer in residence at the Toronto Public Library – the massive downtown branch that had everything from a bustling children’s section to a reverent, silent reference section that required awe and confidence to even consider entering, as well as permission from the steely woman at the desk.  It had a most comprehensive theatre section.  I knew about this because my fiancé and all his theatre colleagues would talk about it when they wanted to sound sharp and academic.  So I went to see the “writer-in-residence” and I cannot remember a thing he said.  And then I got married, I went to work at my new job, I had children and that was that.

So now, oh muse, I must begin again.  Or, rather, continue. I am trying.  I am thinking about writing a lot.  I am waiting for you, looking for you.  And I guess what you are telling me is that I cannot wait for you to show up and inspire me.  I must just do it and do it some more, actually write words on paper, and you will poke your head in now and then and encourage me.  Or laugh at me.  Or help me laugh at myself.

Will you steer me or simply stare me into action?  I’m going, I’m going.

Regards and love,

Marla

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Marla Mulloy is an aspiring writer with an evolving collection of poems and stories, one of which has recently been published in The Timberline Review. She has been a teacher and now works with refugees in Calgary. Much of her writing reflects the experience of refugees, documenting through story the paths that brought them here and how they create home in new places. She continues to share her writing through her blog: www.tossingwords.wordpress.com

Writer as Sculptor

November 22, 2017 § 19 Comments

Jennifer Lang small head shotBy Jennifer Lang

After “So,” my 100-word story about a spontaneous moment when I hugged a stranger in a department store, appeared on Thread literary journal, I emailed the editor to thank her, explaining that I’d written it years ago, in a much longer version, but always found the story flat and uninspiring. For months, I’d worked on it with my writing group, seven CNF’ers who urged me to dig deeper, to reflect, to describe what had motivated me to open my arms to an inconnu. I edited, revised, tweaked: two pages turned into three then four and finally five. Initially, I titled it “Nothing to Lose,” reminiscent of my mother’s motto encouraging me to take chances. Eventually, I rewrote it in second person and called it “How to Hug a Stranger.” Regardless of how many times I described the scene or strengthened verbs, the heart of the story remained the same: lost.

Recently, a fellow writer shared her 100-word story, “Eighty,” on Thread. Her sparse prose sizzled with words like sweaty torso, toenails, lovemaking. I had a rare writerly epiphany, opened my stranger story, copied it into a new document, and went to work.

Like a stone carver, I began to chisel at my words using new and unfamiliar tools. With a point in hand, I removed the primary bulk material, the excess about my mother’s maxim, about the steamy summer weather, about another woman who had addressed the stranger and me during our embrace. I removed all the forced reflection, the blah blah blah behind my boldness. Next, I aimed the rake—a flat, straight chisel with slightly beveled teeth—at the setting to scrape away unnecessary words, leaving the basics: the base of a Macy’s denim display. I repeated the same raking movement with the stranger, describing her minimally: head bowed, sunglasses shielding her eyes, crouched, dark circles, disheveled hair, hospital visitor sticker, rumpled t-shirt. Then, I wielded the flat straight chisel, the finishing tool with a slight bevel, to rasp and sand the action: I open my arms. She steps into my embrace, and we are like awkward teenagers, slow dancing. I scraped and scraped at dialogue, deleting what I said as I approached her—that she looked like she needed a hug that I couldn’t leave the store without knowing if she was okay that she could squeeze me harder that I wouldn’t break. I scraped more, deleting what she said repeatedly: “You’re so sweet.” By the end, I was left with the six words the stranger said in my arms: “My mom’s dying. I’m so sad.”

After each phase, I counted words and watched them dwindle from 1236 to 484 to 255 to 139. I started anew—carve, chisel, scrape, finish, rasp, sand—until I reached my word-count goal. Each one depended on the next. Each one carried its own weight. Each one mattered. Together, they surprised me in a way most of my longer prose doesn’t.

This month, while aspiring novelists participate in NaNoWriMo, I’m participating in a unique flash forum: an exercise in accountability with a small group of English-speaking writers of all genres around Israel. I didn’t initiate it; I don’t even know the other writers. Every day, we email with the date and under 1000 words. There is no obligation to read or respond, simply to show up and share. For thirty days, I will put forth my best flash with no expectation except of myself: to sculpt my prose once, twice, probably a few more times until the heart story sparkles.
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Jennifer Lang’s essays have appeared in Under the Sun, Assay, Ascent, The Coachella Review, Hippocampus Magazine, and Full Grown People. Honors include Pushcart Prize and Best American Essays nominations and finalist in 2017 Crab Orchard Review’s Literary Nonfiction Contest. Find her at http://israelwritersalon.com and follow her @JenLangWrites as she writes her first memoir.

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