Recently, while browsing the internet, as my generation is apparently so inclined to do, I ran across an interview conducted by Poets & Writers with creative nonfiction writer Phillip Lopate.
In the interview Lopate is asked if he has any rules or guidelines for writing creative nonfiction. I immediately closed the five other tabs I had open and honed in, deciding that his answer was crucial to my success in class and as a writer. If I ever become comfortable enough to consider myself a writer.
So what did he say?
I’m not going to exactly quote it because 1) there’s a link above that will let you read the entire interview (which I strongly urge you to do) and 2) I’m pretty lazy. But essentially Lopate says that rather than harping on incorporating perfect elements of the craft, the key is a masterful display of consciousness on the page. He claims that it can be quite hard to finesse all these elements of the craft that are often stressed in this genre without an interesting mind. He loves to be able to follow an interesting mind. In this way the play of consciousness becomes the main actor on the page.
This idea fascinates me. I mean we all like to think our minds are interesting, right? The more I think about this concept the more I agree. I am quite new to the world of creative nonfiction, but with each piece I read I discover a new interesting mind. I find myself sitting down to read one essay and finishing the entire collection because the writer has such a deep mind and the ideas they play with in their pieces are so eloquent and profound. And it is enthralling, almost intoxicating, to watch that writer’s mind wander and navigate its way through the piece. Each word is thought over and contemplated careful, each shift in tone or tense is purposeful and powerful, and even the inclusion of white space, or lack thereof, in these pieces is strategic and meaningful. If you think about it, it is actually quite stunning to witness.
It is these moments that make the writing creative nonfiction. This element of unique and interesting minds unfolding on the page, processing different moments in a way only they could have thought to is amazing and is what makes the genre so compelling. Whether it is the story of the dollar you found on the ground the other day or the harrowing tale of your first heartbreak, writers of this genre will make it interesting.
I may have gotten a bit carried away there, but I’d love to hear any of your opinions on Lopate’s “rule.” The interview is pretty interesting itself so feel free to check it out!