2014, Archives, October 2014, The MFA Years

From Week 6 to Week 10: Bending Genre


The above picture is one I snapped a few weeks ago while biking around downtown Flagstaff. Yes, biking, something I’ve only recently been able to do on the daily for the first time in just about 10 years. Before I moved out west, I was super dependent on my car. I needed it for everything. I needed it to get me just about everywhere. It stressed me out to no end having to deal with inevitable car repair bills and wondering how I was supposed to get to work to make the money to fix it. Don’t get me started on rush hour traffic and road rage. But biking downtown, I was able to go at my own pace. I wasn’t in a rush to get anywhere. I could just go where I wanted for as long as I wanted and appreciate all the beauty around me. I don’t know if I’ll ever get another moment in life when I can just do that to no consequence.

What I learned about myself in this last month of more creative writing classes and MFA fanfare is I really like creative non-fiction. I know I mentioned in my last blog post that I was really enjoying my creative non-fiction workshop more than I ever would have thought I would, but I really feel like this workshop has given me room to grow as a writer in a way that a fiction workshop wouldn’t have. My program director, Nicole Walker is my instructor, and I give all the credit to her for why I love this workshop. Before this class, my only serious foray into creative non-fiction was in a creative writing class I took when I was an undergrad at the University of Pittsburgh. I guess I can’t fault the class too much, as it was one of those catch-all, cover-all writing classes. There’s only so much time you can devote to each concentration of writing. That said, in retrospect, I feel pretty cheated by that experience. My idea of non-fiction at the time was boring biographical situations that I was just as turned off about reading as I was about writing. And so by consequence, what I produced was a boring biographical event from my childhood that I didn’t enjoy writing and certainly don’t believe anyone would enjoy reading. No one told me that non-fiction could be fun to write– that non-fiction could be just as fun to write as fiction is.

Dr. Walker published a book called Bending Genre, unfortunately I haven’t gotten around to reading it, but it discusses the craft of writing non-fiction and the liberties one is able to take so that it reads more like an amalgam of genres. With the idea now out there I can take liberties with crafting stories based on my real life I’ve now produced two essays for class that were so refreshing to write. It’s my life, but I could use conventions from fiction, framing and structure mechanisms, that make it more interesting. It’s been such a joy. I’m even considering submitting one or more of my non-fiction pieces to literary magazines. I haven’t felt that confident about the quality of one of my pieces in a long time, and for it not to be a fictional piece is quite the feat.

Best of all, my non-fiction workshop is filled  with such strong writers. My non-fiction workshop is a little smaller than my fiction workshop, and the quality of writing is that much more concentrated. Some of my colleagues’ writing is just so impressive. Less intimidating, and more of a prideful feeling to think “I was picked along with this guy to be part of the program?” Mind blowing.

I’ll have another essay due next week that I’m excited to write. Each essay is like tearing a layer of myself back, exposing it, and using it as fuel for better writing. It’s almost therapeutic. I wanted to take a moment to highlight non-fiction this month because being outside my genre of choice (fiction), I think it’s important to point how things outside our genre can be big helps to our craft. Perhaps that thing that’s missing from my fiction can’t be found in a fiction class?

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