I’ve been reading and re-reading some drafts recently, seeing things from new angles. And I’ve been thinking about a piece of creative non-fiction in particular because it offers a lesson in the benefits of taking a step back from something you are trying too hard to make right.
For my monthly column at Awkword Paper Cut, I had promised to deliver an article in which I would interview several writers about their creative process. I contacted a unique set of writers — Mary Carroll-Hackett, Kari Nguyen, Rupert Fike, Tim Jones and Kate Brown — who had no trouble producing the requested material. But I had a difficult time putting it together.
This doesn’t happen very often for me — not when I’m working with other writers. I like hearing their words and piecing them together. It’s like building a puzzle, and usually it all fits just so. But no matter how I tried, this short creative essay would not come together. To be perfectly frank, it was boring.
Not because of content — the writers delivered well enough. But I could not find a way to present the material that worked. I was boring myself — a sure sign I’d be boring my readers, too. Admitting there is a problem is the first step…
The cure came when editor Michael Dickes said: take a step back and turn it on its head. Of course he was right; it’s too easy to linger too close to our material, and fret. So I let it sit for a day and thought: how could this content be presented in a livelier way? How could I have fun with it, instead of packing these wonderful creatives into a small colourless box?
I let connections happen without over-thinking them. I found a way to let their words speak in a context that was conversational. What resulted was a lively dinner engagement — the setting completely fictitious — with six writers. And it was the most fun I had all month.
This piece appears in the August issue of Awkword Paper Cut. I encourage you to go there to read all the other varied things included as well — podcasts and video flashes, poets and musicians, animated prose and short story cinema, to name but a few. Once you do, you’ll see why there was no way I could show up to the party with something less than lively.
I’m so grateful to the five writers who joined me in this exercise in creativity. And to the editor who knew when to tell me to take a break and remember to have fun. I usually don’t have to be reminded of that, but in this case the nudge from Michael Dickes was greatly needed. In the end, a colleague of mine read this piece without reading the author note at the bottom of the page and wrote: “OH! You had dinner with Rupert Fike!” — which I took as a sign that the whole thing worked (despite the impossibilities of basic geography).