Delete The Adjectives.
On the first day of my Creative Writing Nonfiction class I was what author Anne Lamott would define as a, “bright goofy duckling who would follow (her) anywhere.” I’m sure my professor lumped me into this category as I came into class fifteen minutes early, smiling insanely at her, and sitting in the very front of the class. I felt like this was my calling. The pen, the paper, the classroom, the words! I had this down.
I mean, let’s be honest, I was already pretty much a pro. I had just finished up a Creative Writing Poetry course where I submitted my first complete work of literary genius entitled, “Nostalgia, Regret, and Pancakes.” (Oh, I still cringe at the thought of it.) And sitting there on that first day, I was convinced that nonfiction would have the same allure as poetry… I quickly realized it was not as fun as I had originally imagined. After struggling with the first few assignments and trying to make my life sound much more interesting than it ultimately was, the class was assigned Lamott’s Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. This is when things began to click.
This is what Anne says about starting the writing process:
“The first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason they write so very little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out. Year after year my students are bursting with stories to tell, and they start writing projects with excitement and maybe even joy- finally their voices will be heard, and they are going to get to decote themselves to this one thing they’ve longed to do since childhood. but after a few days at the desk, telling the truth in an interesting way turns out to be about as easy and pleasurable as bathing a cat. Some lose faith. Their sense of self and story shatters and crumbles to the ground…”
Anne states that one of her first assignments is usually something as simple as writing down all of your memories as truthfully as possible. This will be your assignment for the day. Facts are the best place to start. You’ll know exactly where to go from there.
These memories need no format, no figurative language, no wordy descriptions.
Just state the facts, the events, the milestones, the non milestones.
Stick with your childhood.
(Yes, this is similar to the “I remember” assignment, but I want you to vary your experiences and try not to format it like a poem. Some of you stuck witha theme for that assignment… This should be all over the place. We’re working our way towards something bigger here. )
Fill an entire page.
Tell me your story.
Tell me the truth.