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.
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
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.
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 kept repeating “Pen to paper” when she noticed someone not writing.
When your fingers stop moving, your brain stops.
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.
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.