February 9, 2022 § 3 Comments
By Lindsey Anthony-Bacchione
The Editors of Hippocampus Magazine’s Getting to the Truth: The Craft and Practice of Creative Nonfiction had me hooked from the very beginning when it asks readers which type of Imposter Syndrome they most identify with. Having earned two writing degrees and worked as a freelance story analyst for over ten years in the film industry, I found myself with one foot in The Perfectionist column and one in The Soloist column with a small puddle of self-sabotage as gurgling quicksand below. In Athena Dixon’s essay, she gives grounded questions to help any writer work with this Imposter that lives within, stands in front, pulls from below, and any other form of obstacle it creates, including her own that she has fondly named Derek.
I have never asked myself, what are my aversions to networking, but I am eager to discover more tangible solutions to help me get out of my own way (or at least move my Imposter aside). With Getting to the Truth, The Editors of Hippocampus have given writers in every stage of the writing life a gift. Chocked full of pragmatic tips, how-to’s, creative exercises, and priceless information, Getting to the Truth is the first creative nonfiction craft book I have read that has left me with pages of ideas for future essays, memoirs, and hybrid visual essays I had never considered. What sets Getting to the Truth apart from many other CNF craft books, is its emphasis on the practice of writing creative nonfiction. The Editors of Hippocampus successfully debunk the myth that words just appear when a writer sits down by dissecting the precious challenges that writing creative nonfiction brings. When writing creative nonfiction, our mind can be a most difficult guest at the table.
Tailored specific to CNF writers, Getting to the Truth dives right into what is stopping so many of us from telling our stories: ourselves. The book delves into the neuroscience of memory, the shapeshifting of our traumas, the difficulties of writing about family, and the importance of a faulty memory. In Wendy Fontaine’s essay, she unpacks her own experience of writing a detailed scene about her divorce in the dead of winter only to discover that the court date she references actually happened in the summertime. She asks herself, “What right did I have to render this scene to the page if I couldn’t even recall it correctly?” Fontaine weaves research, science, and the discoveries and observations of other memoirists, to arrive at the well-scavenged advice: “Don’t be afraid to explore your own memory mistakes…. You might find more truth, more meaning in the distortion itself.” It is this search for meaning that The Editors help map for any writer trying to get a story out.
In Kate Meadows’ essay, she confronts the conflict of a “quiet” life and how changing the idea of conflict to one of movement helped her unearth a deeper conflict within, one she had not excavated for the page. She posits, “If we think of an EKG line as a metaphor for story, we want to see a line with lots of rises and falls. In other words, we want a trajectory, a record of movement throughout the story.”
Jenna McGuiggan’s brilliant essay touches on the feeling of overwhelm—a feeling extremely dear to me—about the mountain of stories that can overwhelm the writer, leaving the words buried. She introduces the concept of the One-Moment Memoir, and gives inspired exercises to help writers push through the overwhelm and grant themselves permission to write about one single moment instead of the entire story. As a writer who spent a year traveling around the world and then came home and wrote nothing about this experience, this essay found a home in my heart. But more importantly, a flood of one-moment ideas spilled out on the page. There is beauty in omission and editors of Hippocampus Magazine help writers find the stories that really matter to them. They do this through pinpointing meaning. To sit down and attempt to write about my nine-month adventure around the world is daunting to begin with, boring and self-serving at best. To write about the sheep that was bleating outside of my window in Marrakech for three days, waking me in the early hours of the morning, aggravating me to no end until the absence of the noise sent me off to discover its body strung, its head apart, in preparation for Eid Al Adha, is a moment perhaps worth examining. Speaking to my cinephile heart, McGuiggan compares this mining for meaning to a scene in a movie and asks the writer: “What does this moment mean to you?” Meadows asks “How does your main character interact with their environment?” In Melanie Brooks’s essay she asks, “What are the pieces of the family story that only you carry?”
For those of us who find it difficult to find the words to express meaning, have no fear, Nicole Breit’s essay takes CNF writers down the exciting path of the Visual Essay. In her essay, she leaves no stone unturned and gives writers a wealth of knowledge supported by moving visual essays such as Vivek Shraya’s photo essay “Trisha” or Shirley Harshenin’s quilted essay “When a Jack Fails.”
Getting to the Truth is not only a book where writers can galvanize inspiration, but it is also an incredible teaching tool, a by-product of the successful HippoCamp conference held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, each summer. The collection of essays from different editors and writers makes for a collaborative reading experience, one of shared writing experiences and an encouraging dialogue among writers. In addition to the ideas and inspirations, I collected a page full of magazines and literary journals I had never heard of, essayists and memoirists I had not yet discovered. I created a checklist of actionable items to take in the forward direction of my writing life, one that is often mired in feelings of overwhelm, underwhelm, and a deeply seated fear that despite the writing degrees and work experience, perhaps I’m just not good enough. The Editors of Hippocampus know this mind. They are this mind. Getting to the Truth not only tells us all that there is enough space for all of our stories, but it shows us how. The craft book ends with a bonus section with lists of places to submit CNF work and how to find other homes, as well as an Endnotes section with reading recommendations and all of the essays I scribbled down before discovering the Editors had already graciously done this part for the reader. The Editors of Hippocampus say we can do this, one moment at a time.
Lindsey Anthony-Bacchione writes creative nonfiction and book reviews. She holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Antioch University Los Angeles and a BFA in dramatic writing from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her work can be seen at About Place Journal, Sentience Literary Journal, Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog, and a book review forthcoming in The Rumpus. She is currently working on a memoir and can be found on Instagram @thingsivelearnedfrommydaughter and Twitter @LABacchione.
June 7, 2018 § 15 Comments
Who gave you permission exactly? To call yourself a ‘writer’?
And while we’re on the subject, do you really think that your words matter?
That they’ll reach anyone?
…Well there was that one time I—
Yeah, that was a fluke.
Welcome to the ongoing conversation in my head. It’s pathetic, really. Counterproductive, and embarrassing to admit. A cheerleader (both back in high school and still at heart), I wear a smile like my insecurities don’t affect me. I speak with candor and ease, make eye contact, even mic up and take the stage from time to time. And yet, most mornings as I slip from dreaming to waking, my familiar writing foe is there to greet me.
I first learned about Imposter Syndrome before I’d ever experienced it. There I was in Eden, entirely new to the writing life. Fearless, naïve, filled with wonder and bursting at the seams with creative energy. I remember it sounding absurd at the time, like telling yourself that you don’t have the right to breathe, or grow hair. The thought of thwarted talent—entire libraries of would-be memoirs, novels, and poems—broke my heart. Thank God I don’t have that problem, I said. And then, just like that, I fell.
Was it that unexpected manuscript rejection? The first “your words meant so much” from a stranger? My own foolish ‘Thank God’ decree? I don’t know. But if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s this: there’s no un-biting the proverbial apple.
And it’s a total shame. I ache to feel the bliss of my fingertips flying across my keyboard, my heart growing fuller with each terrible first draft. But here I am now, self-judging. (Wait, Thesaurus.com surely has a better way to put it…) The fall was strange: as soon as I began to pull words from the void, I turned my head. I saw others conjuring more impressive words from the same void—drawing larger crowds and louder applause—and I began to feel less legitimate than I had before I’d picked up my pen. I looked at my craft and told myself that it wasn’t enough.
That I wasn’t enough.
“Do you suffer from Imposter Syndrome?”
I don’t know what got into me, asking Melanie Brooks that question—an author whose book, Writing Hard Stories, I’d dog-eared and highlighted and hugged to my chest. Perhaps it was the vulnerability she’d expressed in those opening pages.
[I was] uncertain about whether I belonged or not. Whether the story I had to tell… could adequately compare to the work around me.
Nonetheless, as soon as my question escaped my lips, in waltzed my illness: Of course she doesn’t, my own Imposter Syndrome scoffed. What reason would she have? All right, listen—she’ll excuse your faux-pas, give you a little figurative pat on the back, ‘there, there’—
“All the time,” Melanie said.
Our words dovetailed like two rivers meeting an ocean:
“I tell myself, if I could just have my memoir published—”
“Get a piece into a higher profile literary magazine—”
“Reach 12,000 Twitter followers—”
“Land that dream agent—”
How liberating it was to find out a writer I admired was on the same page. In voicing our self-doubts with one another, I realized how truly ubiquitous the need is to prove ourselves to the world. And how corrosive: seeking external approval eats away at our core—the very place where our creativity is born. The thought of thwarted talent.
If only for a moment, our mutual confession freed me from my writerly woes. I felt understood and forgiven. I was reminded of the reason Melanie and I were on the phone in the first place: our shared desire for community. “A diverse collective of memoirists,” I said. “Writers of true, first-person accounts coming together to elevate each other’s voices, craft, and causes.” My idea for Moving Forewords wasn’t a wholly unique one. Other authors have discovered the benefits of these pay-it-forward models. Tapping into peer-to-peer support networks and sharing audiences makes the work of writing so much less siloed. It brings us out of our own heads and into a larger dialogue. And for those of us in need of reclaiming ownership over the title “writer,” it reminds us that permission is granted unconditionally. That the act of asking is the only thing that has ever diminished it.
We’ve heard it before—what matters most is what we do when no one else is listening. But the reality is this: People will listen, and we will want them to. Perhaps as writers, that’s our own special brand of original sin. We can’t afford to forget, though, that our craft is an exercise in empathy. A reaching out; a coming together. And what makes our words worth reading isn’t our ability to turn heads. It’s our desire to touch hearts and change lives.
Dana Mich is a writer living in Virginia. Her memoir-in-progress commemorates her life with her father, who she lost to suicide, and her grandfather who survived the Holocaust. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Times of Israel, The Manifest-Station, Folio Literary Journal, PsychCentral, and DIYMFA. Follow her @DanaMichWrites, and the memoir-writers collective @movingforewords.