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Monday, March 27, 2006

Humans Want Stories

As a journalist, I'm interested in telling a story that's true, but in a way that makes it as compelling as fiction. As a person, I'm drawn to quirkiness, whether it's in the living, the dead, or the inanimate.

In the mid-90s, I had a good career going as a freelance writer and editor, but I was getting restless in what I was writing. Out of nowhere, I got a flier for the first Mid-Atlantic Writers' Conference on Creative Nonfiction, featuring John McPhee. I went to see McPhee because I knew he was famous (I did manage to read something of his before the conference). And I learned about creative nonfiction (CNF), which is sometimes easier to define by listing what it's not: not poetry, not fiction, not pyramid-structured straight journalism. CNF tells stories that are true using the tools of fiction (dialogue, story arc, suspense, etc.). It's a type of writing that has been variously called literary journalism, feature writing, literary nonfiction, and nonfiction narrative.

I liked what I heard at the conference, so I enrolled in a low-residency master of fine arts program (Goucher, class of '99) in creative nonfiction.

An MFA is what's known in academia as a terminal degree. There were times in getting the degree that I thought it would kill me, and times when I wanted to die (can frustration be a cause of death?), but a terminal degree simply means that the MFA is the highest degree attainable in that field. In general, there's no Ph.D. to go after. After the MFA, there's just a leap into more writing.

Here, I want to give myself a public deadline for writing narratives. It's so easy to let all my time go to editing reports and writing "how-to" articles. My goal is to post a piece a week. Sometimes a personal essay. Sometimes pure reportage. Sometimes just a scene.

I also firmly--concretely, granitely, drought-hardened-mud firmly--believe that blogs ought to be more than navel gazing. In this blog, I'll post information pertinent to the craft of writing narratives that are true. Current arguments. New books. Resources. Notes from my MFA classes. Places online to poke around.

Stick with me. Although I can't promise a tidy ending, we'll see where this goes.

category: scribblings


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