Monday, January 7, 2013

How I Spent Five Dollars and Learned How to Write an Instant Essay

Last Saturday, I spent five dollars and made a great investment in my writing career.  

My friend Lou Turner and I drove across the Missouri River to attend the St. Louis Writers Guild workshop "Write an Essay, Right Here, Right Now " by Catherine Rankovic. We met up with several other writing friends from Coffee and Critique and Saturday Writers who attended as well.

SLWG only charges $5 for non-members to attend their monthly workshops, and it was money well spent.

Rankovic is an award-winning writer who teaches creative nonfiction and poetry workshops in the online MFA program at Lindenwood University. She also is a professional manuscript editor whose website can be found at  www.BookEval.com


At the beginning of the workshop I felt like a student back in college, trying to soak up knowledge from a favorite teacher. Catherine's teaching approach was direct and low-key. I took pages of notes because just about everything she had to say about creative nonfiction was interesting or fresh.

 


Here are a few notes I jotted down about Creative Nonfiction:


Includes: personal essays, memoir, literary journalism, essays, and narrative nonfiction.

Most people think of personal essays – about writer’s life or experience

 Or Memoir – delimited chunk of memory, a place you remember, dealing with the past



Creative nonfiction is the most publishable genre.

Called the 4th genre (poetry, fiction, drama, creative nonfiction)

Uses techniques belonging to other genres (poetry/fiction), such as similes, metaphors, characterization, suspense, describe the five senses, opinion, reflection

In personal essays, use whole body, not just intellect – use thoughts, feelings, emotions.

Don’t write anything dishonest.

Difference between Facts and Truth.

Facts – anything somebody can look up, e.g. Lincoln was born in 1809.
 
Truth – can’t prove everything, e. g. my mother is a great cook

Narrative nonfiction – History or biography. Publishers want this type of writing, e.g. Seabiscuit

***

For the first exercise, we were directed to write a draft on a topic of our choice.
 
Catherine reminded us that the draft is difficult, but it is the artistic part

We were given time to pre-write and were reminded not to: think, censor, rewrite, hesitate, or lift pen from the page.

Catherine kept repeating “Pen to paper” when she noticed someone not writing.

When your fingers stop moving, your brain stops.

The writing prompt I chose was: I still wish I had . . .

My friend Lou chose: I was taught to . . .

***

Our second exercise was to use the "Instant Essay Formula" to write an essay, which could continue what we drafted from the prompt or be something else entirely.
First, select a topic you want to write about and explore
 
Then, with your topic in mind, prepare to free-write about your topic, three minutes per paragraph.

Write in prose and full sentences, each one building on the last one.

Put pen to paper or keep tapping those keys and do not stop to judge; write what comes to mind. Do not censor; do not stop typing or writing. It’s a draft you can correct it later.

During the writing time we were given literary devices to use for each paragraph. These devices included: a similie, dialogue, physical description or movement, humor, mixed feelings, moral values, comparison and contrast, personification of an inanimate object, a list, a definition of a term, a published historical event, and a paragraph summing it all up. After that we were reminded to be sure to give a title to our drafts.

The last piece of advice was if we had a handwritten draft, to go home and type it up that day to make it part of our unconscious repertoire.

After her presentation, I thanked Catherine and told her how surprised I was at the memories that surfaced and how the words began to flow when I began to write my draft essay.

After the workshop several writer friends went for lunch, where we discussed how much we learned and how inspired we were by the workshop. 

On the drive home, I got goosebumps when Lou read her draft essay about being told by her grandmother to speak up and not be quiet (she took her grandmother's advice to heart) and how she saw ghosts while living with her grandparents on the banks of the Illinois River.

This morning Lou called and we talked again about how much we enjoyed the workshop. She asked me to read my essay, which began to be about a pair of candlesticks I wish I hadn't sold at a garage sale but expanded to become something more.

I plan to read "Lessons in Ruby Red" tomorrow at Coffee and Critique then polish it again. The next step is to find a market and send it out, where I hope it will find a home.

Even if it doesn't get published, I have been inspired to use the "instant essay" method to tap into my artistic side and write more creative nonfiction. 


23 comments:

  1. What a wonderful outing you and Lou had...so informative, so inspiring...why,it is inspiring to me just to read about it! Geez, I need to move to the east side of the state, ha-ha. This is a good begining to you new year...glad for you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It WAS a fun way to dig deeper and discover some hidden gems.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Claudia,
    If you ever get to this part of the state, give me a call. We can get together with Lou and some other writers to talk about--let's see--writing!

    Hi Linda,
    It was good to see you Saturday. Sorry we didn't get to chat more. I bout had writer's cramp finishing those 11 handwritten pages of draft.

    Donna

    ReplyDelete
  4. I read some of Catherine's stories before attending the writer's conference where she was a guest speaker. She impressed me then. Sounds like everyone took home valuable tools. Donna, if I had hand-written anything, I wouldn't have been able to read it back later. Anxious to hear your story tomorrow.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Alice,
      Yesterday I was able to read your comments with no problem. Thanks for your advice.
      Donna

      Delete
  5. Your blog post is a pretty good tutorial on the subject, Donna. I haven't tried writing any personal essays or creative nonfiction or memoir...yet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Patricia,
      Thanks for your kind words. You should try a personal essay.
      Donna

      Delete
  6. Donna's blog posts...the next best thing to being there.

    I'm sure AT&T/Bell Telephone will excuse me for borrowing their fitting slogan. My dad was a lifetime employee of Southwestern Bell.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Val,
      You are so sweet. I get kind of crazy when I hear someone who inspires me to write and I have to share what I learned with others.
      My sister-in-law worked for SW Bell too. Good benefits.
      Donna

      Delete
  7. Thanks, Donna, for sharing that for those of us who missed it. I love how you started with making the trip across the river. :) LOL

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Margo,
      Since I retired I don't make the trip across the river every day like I did back then, so it's kind of an event.
      Donna

      Delete
  8. So sorry I missed this. Maybe she can reprise the workshop someday at a Saturday Writers meeting?

    Pat
    Critter Alley

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Pat,
      That would be a great idea. I would love to hear her talk again.
      Donna

      Delete
  9. I planned to attend, but then couldn't make it. Darn! I was fortunate to meet Catherine when she taught a session at the MWG Conference in...I think 2011? And it's funny because for the past few years before then, I'd been terrified of her!...without even knowing her....because of reading about the writing classes she taught at Wash U. For some reason, I assumed (very bad thing to do!) that she would be ONE TOUGH TEACHER....and why? I guess because the tuition was kind of steep, and because....well, she taught at WASH U! But I was so pleasantly surprised at what a sweet and funny woman she is! Everyone in attendance at Kirkwood, definitely got a BARGAIN for five dollars! ..PS, I laughed about your drive across the river, too...like Margo! LOL

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Becky,
      It really was a bargain. I missed her session at MWG and had been wanting to learn from her for a long time. I'm so happy I was able to go. And it was definitelt a bargain.
      Donna

      Delete
  10. Oh, and another P.S. Your essay was beautiful! I'm so glad you brought it to C&C yesterday. Isn't it an amazing feeling when the words just flow?? It's a rare thing for me, but when it happens...Ahhhh..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Becky,
      You are so sweet. I took a lot of suggestions you all gave me yesterday and have revised, rewritten, and revamped the essay.
      Oh, and I hope your didn't get "looped" at your lunch at the yesterday in the Loop. ;-)
      Donna

      Delete
    2. Ha, thanks Donna! No, I didn't get "looped." I did get a bit worn out doing the cleaning that was my Christmas gift to Mark! :)

      Delete
  11. Donna, this sounds awesome and well worth your time, and for only $5 I'd say you snagged a heck of a bargain!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Sounds like a great event! I love things like this that make you think and stretch writing skills. Glad you shared with us, thanks! :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. It certainly was a great workshop. Let me know if you find markets that use essays as I would be interested and I'll do the same if I find any!

    ReplyDelete
  14. As always, Donna, thank you for your generosity in sharing these pearls. Love your new blog background, by the way! ;)

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hi Lisa,
    Such a good deal--it was!

    Hi Karen,
    You are welcome. This one made me think--and that's a good thing.

    Hi Lynn,
    It was good to see you at the workshop. The essay I wrote might be a candidate for a CS anthology.

    Hi Tammy,
    You are welcome. I'm glad you like my new background. I try to change it with the changing of the seasons.

    Donna

    ReplyDelete