Tag Archive: writing

Nurturing Creativity

In a TED Talk titled “Nurturing Creativity,” Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love, explores the creative process.  She also explores the word genius.  We usually associate that word with a rare person who is somehow marginalized from society and set under a profound light.  However, Gilbert argues that instead of being a genius, we all have a genius that inspires us.

This genius is a type of muse, which was commonly referred to among ancient Greeks.  A muse can be a spirit, a goddess, or even a real person.  A muse is a source of knowledge or insight. Gilbert mentions that Socrates, the great philosopher, had a “daemon” that occasionally popped by to lend some inspiration.

American poet and author Ruth Stone uses a beautiful metaphor to describe the creative process.  An idea is like a storm, rolling over the hills and heading toward the first writer it sees. If the writer can get to a pen and paper fast enough, the storm will run right through her and spill onto the paper.  If the writer doesn’t get there fast enough, the storm will swell through the writer and search for the next one.

That storm is the muse.  From time to time, the muse enters us suddenly.  We have to use these moments to our advantage and let the muse conduct the writing.  This inspiration is precious and unseen.  It sneaks up on you and it is your job to be ready to use it. When the muse decides to take a leave of absence, or even hibernate, the writer still has a duty to show up for work.  (This “genius” is known for being flaky).

This should ease some writers’ doubt and anxiety.  A common fear among writers is that their work is not as good as former work, or that it is not original.  Now you have an excuse.  Just tell yourself that the muse was absent a lot.  The muse is there to praise but also to blame.  So just keep writing. You will produce some “bad” writing and then you will have surges of great writing, and you have to appreciate those moments.  You have to filter out the bad to get the good.  If you lose inspiration, just remember the muse will come around.  Just be patient.

-Sarah Diedrick

Non-Fiction Is Boring, Right?

FALSE.  Non-fiction and memoirs can produce the most honest writing; I don’t mean honest in terms of “oh it’s honest because it’s true because it’s not fiction.”  I mean that it produces a genuine connection with the subject that is obvious through the writing.

How come the negative defines this type of writing?  It’s not fiction.  I think this is what turns writers off to the genre—we are so intrigued by and used to fiction that we are repelled by the thought of writing non-fiction because it is not imaginative or provoking.  Who says that non-fiction cannot incorporate aspects of fiction?  I was in an immersive non-fiction class with Daniel Wallace and the most valuable advice he gave my class is that you can immerse yourself in a non-fiction story in a way that you sometimes cannot do with fiction.  You have real subjects to draw off of and real experiences to be a part of.  For example, I went to a couple of music festivals this past summer and I wrote about my experiences.  I was immersed in the culture of music festivals for three days, so I was able to draw several observations, small and large, from my weekend there.  Another example: I hung out at a tattoo shop and wrote a non-fiction piece about the dialogue that went on, which tattoos people were getting and other observations.  It also allowed me to clear up some stereotypes that are associated with the tattoo world.

Non-fiction does not have to be straight fact— it can take facts and real experiences and then turn them into a story that can be just as intriguing and compelling as fiction.  Susan Orlean is a great non-fiction writer and is widely known for her contributions to The New Yorker.  In fact, one of her non-fiction pieces, titled Orchid Fever, was adapted into a film starring Meryl Streep!  Susan Orlean has a way of turning her non-fiction stories into a journey, one that she invites her readers to experience with her.  She invites us to share her experiences, and because she spends so much time with her subject, we get the feeling that we too have met these people and have been given some insight into their world.

Life is about experiencing other people, other cultures and ways that people thrive in life.  Non-fiction shows us these different aspects of the world in a way that makes us think about them as fiction.

In addition, most of us young writers think that we can’t write great memoirs because we’re young and haven’t had many experiences, so therefore, our lives are boring.  Again, false.  We all have at least one experience that has shaped us in a way that can be turned into a great memoir. So, here is my challenge to young writers: think of a moment in your life— it could be a pivotal moment or it could be a small action—and write a scene from it.  Stay true to your story while invoking aspects of fiction.  Draw out the scene by describing it in as much detail as possible.  Add some dialogue or some pauses for effect.  Relive this moment through all the senses.  You may find a truth within this moment that you didn’t even realize when you were actually experiencing it.

-Sarah Diedrick

“Queen of Palmyra” Book Review

I just finished reading Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin.  I highly recommend this book— the writing is honest and beautiful. Plus, Minrose Gwin is a Kenan Eminent Professor of English at UNC and Co-Editor of the Southern Literary Journal.

Book description:

*”I need you to understand how ordinary it all was. . . .”

In the turbulent southern summer of 1963, Millwood’s white population steers clear of “Shake Rag,” the black section of town. Young Florence Forrest is one of the few who crosses the line. The daughter of a burial insurance salesman with dark secrets and the town’s “cake lady,” whose backcountry bootleg runs lead further and further away from a brutal marriage, Florence attaches herself to her grandparents’ longtime maid, Zenie Johnson. Named for Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, Zenie treats the unwanted girl as just another chore, while telling her stories of the legendary queen’s courage and cunning. The more time Florence spends in Shake Rag, the more she recognizes how completely race divides her town, and her story, far from ordinary, bears witness to the truth and brutality of her times—a truth brought to a shattering conclusion when Zenie’s vibrant college-student niece, Eva Greene, arrives that fateful Mississippi summer. Minrose Gwin’s The Queen of Palmyra is an unforgettable evocation of a time and a place in America—a nuanced, gripping story of race and identity.*

The beauty of this book is Gwin’s style of writing.  She captures the innocence of Florence through her pure, naive observations. There is a soft spot in our hearts for Florence because she is the only character we meet who is untainted by the racial issues seeping in to her town.

Gwin also has a way of letting the reader see the larger problems before Florence does- because, presumably, we are less naive than she is.  For example, Gwin describes a box that Florence’s daddy has- a box that he keeps in the basement and brings out with him every night.  As Florence describes the box from a very young perspective, our faces start to bunch up because we realize what evil Florence’s dad possesses before she even knows it.  On the back of the book is written: “I need you to understand how ordinary it all was. . . .” We soon realize how important this statement is throughout the entire novel and, also, how heartbreakingly true it is.

This novel is so inspiring, I was so motivated to write my own stories while reading it. Gwin tells us this story from a fresh perspective.  She also teaches us that we don’t always have to pull out fancy words and the thesaurus when writing a novel.  Sometimes, simplicity is the best way to let a story shine.

-Sarah Diedrick