Like a poem, a genuine essay is made out of language and character and mood and temperament and pluck and chance. ~Cynthia Ozick
I’ve always loved reading personal essays – love the way a good writer offers the reader a glimpse through the lens into a personal experience, and then broadens the angle so the view becomes a larger perspective on life in general, love the way creative expression and personal stories come together to illuminate a truth about the world.
So I’m very excited about a Creative Nonfiction class I’m taking this summer. It’s an online class, taught by one of my favorite bloggers, who, in addition to being a wonderul writer, is a teacher and editor. Each week we’re reading examples of personal essays and then writing our own essays in that genre, which we post for others to read and comment on. It’s been a great way to stretch my writing muscles, meet some other people who are interested in this type of writing, and get great feedback on my work.
Just before the class started, I ordered a copy of Tell It Slant, Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction, by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola. Coincidentally, our first lesson used an exercise from this book, and we’ve referred to it in subsequent lessons. The title of the book is taken from a poem by Emily Dickinson, “Tell all the Truth but tell it Slant/ Success in Circuit lies…” This line describes the work of the Creative Nonfiction writer – work based in truth, but told with the slant of creative and artistic expression.
Creative nonfiction can focus on either private experience or public domain, but in either case, the inner self provides the vision and the shaping influence to infuse the work with this sense of ‘pluck and chance.’ In many cases, the essayist may find himself thinking aloud on the page. Then the essay becomes a continual process of unexpected discovery.
Imagination coupled with facts – that the recipe for the creative nonfiction writer.