NaNoWriMo 2017 – Introduction to Arcane Archives

For NaNo, I’m going to attempt my Arcane Archives WIP (work-in-progress)!

Here is the opening line:

Syd watches the clock steadily tick-tock in sequence with the sounds of her heels tapping against church seats. She turns to find the Pastor looking right at her, smiling. “Sydney!”, her mother yells, “Stand up; pay attention! Everyone is looking at you!”

Summary: In this tale, historical fiction meets whimsical fantasy when a modern-day witch unlocks the secrets of her ancestral past, uncovering the history of Old Religion and the disappearance of arcane knowledge. As she ventures beneath New York City’s oldest chapel, she finds a mysterious stranger, a hidden library and a lot more than what she bargained for.

Main Character – Syd
Narrator – Third Person Omniscient, “God” – Mysterious Stranger Joan Wytte

Joan Wytte takes on the character of Syd’s ancestor. She has the personality of an old wise woman and grandmother.

Syd’s mother, Penny, is a practicing Catholic and clerical assistant for the church. She is also the library’s keeper and, of course, a witch.

Topics covered:
Similarities between nature religion (better known as paganism) and evolution.
Intersectionality between religion and class warfare.
Imperialism/colonialism.
History of Catholicism in England.

And, another writing project emerges!

I will be spending October developing the plot and world building. I want to begin a character chart as well. The goal is to have the novel well outlined before November 1st!

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Miscarriage Manifesto

** Trigger warning **

This post includes pregnancy loss, miscarriage, infant loss, stillbirth, and death – which may be triggering to those who have experienced these tragedies in the past. Please do not continue reading if that is the case for you.

Pregnancy loss is perhaps one of the most taboo, not-talked-about topics in women’s health, and because of this, there is such a small, nearly non-existent online community for this special kind of grief. There are no support groups in your community, and no one to talk to. I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could help open up the dialogue between other women? If I could create this safe space for women to speak about their experiences? Truth be told, I have never gone about doing something like this for my blog, however, lately, I have felt compelled to speak out and share my story.

Over the past few years, I’ve experienced 2 late-term pregnancy losses. After the first loss, I did not announce my second pregnancy. I would hesitate to share a pregnancy publicly again. Have you ever tried to grieve publicly? It’s crippling. What should be a happy experience becomes a very stressful one after the event of a miscarriage. It feels as though the most exciting and joyous milestone in my life has been taken from me. Now, reproductive health has become one of my biggest ongoing stressors and has caused unspeakable grief, emotional turmoil, and numerous doctor visits.

My first miscarriage required a dilatation and curettage operation which is similar to what occurs for an abortion. The second time, labor began on its own, and I delivered the baby. In both instances, a complete autopsy could not be done because it was not covered by my insurance. However, ongoing tests have been conducted, during and after both losses. Although numerous X-rays, MRIs, ultrasounds, and tissue samplings have been produced, the answers are still not clear. Poor fetal growth was a primary cause in both cases, and there is a possible link to a blood-clotting disorder that is known to cause recurrent miscarriages.

Additionally, there are gaps in my medical history simply because I had not gone to the doctor very often in the last 6-7 years, and I had not seen an OBGYN until I was in my mid-20’s. For a short while, I also did not have insurance. Sometimes, I couldn’t afford the co-pay or simply couldn’t justify spending the money to go to the doctor when I was sick or not getting my period.

I think the biggest challenge of all is self-blame, and self-blame is a dangerous road to travel, especially alone. Before my first pregnancy, I had lost some weight after a huge lifestyle overhaul. I felt fantastic. I started doing yoga, eating carrots, and ovulating like a beast. I did everything right. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I don’t even take Tylenol. Yet, I had become the biggest failure, because my body refused to do what it was literally designed to do. Billions of years of evolution, and every supplement under the sun, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t grow a human.

If you have experienced pregnancy or infant loss, feel free to share your thoughts and feelings in the comments.

Below is a poem a wrote some odd months ago titled Miscarriage Manifesto

The greatest pain of all is having your heart. beat. ripped away.

Pale and blue. Purple eyelids and fingertips. Peaceful, perfect, a piece of art you were.

It was Spring time and I was prepared to welcome new life. But, instead, a great darkness came — and it stole every flicker of light. From the pits of my chest to my womb, I was overcome by this darkness.

As you left, all of me followed.

Pregnancy loss has been the greatest loss of my life. Stillbirth has been the most difficult hello and goodbye.

Pregnancy and childbirth should be, and is, one of the most earth-shattering experiences in a woman’s life. You are, indeed, growing life! There is nothing more divine.

My first pregnancy was nothing short of magical. I was in awe of every adjustment my body made to make way for new life. My body morphed and for the first time, my standards of beauty morphed. Strength was beauty. Spirit was beauty. Womanhood was beauty. Now, I held a new found appreciation for what the female anatomy can endure, and will endure, to birth a new generation each and every day. It is nothing short of miraculous, indeed, yet, clearly not perfect, but perfect in its own way. A sprinkle of luck. A dab of chance. And, here. we. are.

It was a celestial journey to motherhood – one in which I did not reach my destination. One in which, even today, with modern medicine and medical teams, one in four do not reach their destination.

We are here, one in four, suffering from our loss — with our hearts torn from us and our wombs prematurely vacant. We live with a deep longing for our child that was not born or left too soon. We live with our failure to do what is the most natural; which is to do what billions of years of evolution have taught our bodies to do. And, we could not do it. We failed. 

My chest becomes heavy and my breathing quickened as a passerby to Children’s Place. I purposely avoid the toy section. And, as much as try to force against it, I can’t avoid the reaction to pain – a squinted eye. Is it obvious I am childless?

After you left, I spent several months avoiding your photographs. I shoved every newborn outfit and diaper box under the bed. I refused to touch or use the bedroom closet — within was your stroller and car seat tucked away. I didn’t even have the strength to pull it out for donation. I didn’t cry right away, but when I did, I cried for months. I pulled the pregnancy progress pictures off Facebook, and then I put them back. It is difficult to distinguish the difference between trying to say goodbye and wanting to forget.

But my biggest mistake of all is I didn’t talk about it. How do you? Pulling these words out of my mouth is no less than ripping out my tongue. It’s trying to put sentences together from the bile at the bottom of my stomach. It’s vomiting yourself to gastrointestinal disorder over a faulty uterus.

Only now will you learn, “everything happens for a reason” is the cruelest sentiment. I think our all-loving, all-benevolent God has quite enough angels, or at the very least, can wait until old age to collect them. Life is beautiful, isn’t it? A blessing, a gift. Why would anyone retract it?

Yes, I can try again. No, that will not make this better.

It seems that I am met with unintelligent design, or at the very least, a universe that is clearly uninterested with my timeline.

And, through this internal struggle of attachment and detachment from self and child, will I slowly find myself again. Often, it will be in the arms of loved ones who loved me before and after such a tragedy. I will be met with

I will be met with good wishes, and a, “is there anything I can do to make this better”, and of course, I will respond with, “no – but thank you for asking”.

 
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Modesty Is Bullsh*t

We often mistake modesty for humility, and although they have similar definitions, one is authentic, while the other is not.

I was very lucky to have a mother who believed I could do anything — literally anything. Only and if I wanted it bad enough. My father reminded me often of my worth. He lifted me up while also making me tough. I wasn’t really taught modesty, like many of my peers. I wasn’t taught not to brag. I wasn’t taught not to be self-centered, or not to be self-indulgent.

Instead, I was taught to not only notice but also value my accomplishments. I was taught to be self-aware and honest. And, most of all, to cultivate and protect my happiness and well-being. Although indirectly, my parents helped me realize that modesty is by far the most false and unwise attribute you could use to sell yourself.

I never once questioned if I could ever, or would ever, earn the title of “writer”. I didn’t concern myself with the deep implications of this seemingly logical term to describe the practice I do often — write. I write — I am a writer. It’s not rocket science. Modesty is stupid.

It’s not only stupid, it’s manipulative and needy.

It’s a false crutch. It’s a way of saying: I’m insecure! The thing is, it takes great bravery to say, “Yes, I am good at this; I am good at writing” because there will always be someone, who is less secure about themselves, that will say, “Hey! You’re taking up too much space in the room; you’re too big — who do you think you are?” And that stings.

But, what is it you’re supposed to say? That you aren’t sure of yourself? That you are terrible?

That’s silly. The game of modesty is silly. Recognizing your strengths is not bragging. If you wrote an A+ piece, more than likely, you worked hard. Your hard work paid off. You did a good job — that was the entire point, wasn’t it?

But then you realize that you’re simply celebrating your victories — the ones you worked hard to accomplish. You’re doing this because it is more productive than sulking, whining, and marinading in failure.

Insecure people will always want to make you smaller,

and you shouldn’t take that personally. Find and seek comfort in your power, in your strengh, and in the energy that you possess. Celebrate your life force, shine bright, and be colorful.

Humility, on the other hand, is simply living honestly. It is being “real”.

Humility is admitting that no one gets to their destination alone. We all had help.

But, that doesn’t mean we didn’t work hard. That doesn’t mean we didn’t fight tooth and nail. That doesn’t mean that hard work doesn’t pay off — because, at the end of the day, nothing pays off more.

All humility means is that we’ve developed self-awareness. We know what we do well, and we know what it is we could work on. We are honest about our strengths and our weaknesses.

Sometimes you’re good. Sometimes you suck. Sometimes you’re brilliant. Sometimes you’re foolish.

And, you know what, when you start becoming comfortable with your strengths, you also start becoming comfortable with your weaknesses. Eventually, you want others to point them out — you want to improve. Why? Because you believe in yourself and you trust others. You want to be better for yourself and those around you. Don’t be modest. It’s bullsh*t.

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Save the Drama for the Page

Let’s face it: Drama is addictive.

Unfortunately, it does very little for our personal life or our writing life. Naturally, humans love gossip — they love to hear about the lives, and pains, and struggles of others. They enjoy it through their favorite television series and even more so between friends and coworkers.

Misery loves company, and you must be careful of that.

The truth is, it’s so easy to spend all this energy being miserable. It’s easy to sulk. It’s easy to complain. But, it’s still energy you’re wasting — energy that could be redirected towards something more productive like writing or healing. Or both, simultaneously.

Have you ever tried writing when miserable? It’s hard work. Impossible even.

I think what most of us don’t realize is that our dramas become big because we feed them — they’re often not big by default. They’re big because we allow it to consume us in a big way. Deflate your misery by talking about it less. Don’t invite others to fuel the flame. Change your focus. Consider that we can completely toss days or weeks of progress out the window by making a small inconvenience a big one. We begin fixating on how hard this issue is making our lives and it consumes us — every waking hour, and before you know it, we’ve fallen off track and lost our rhythm.

This is especially true for my writing life. It doesn’t take much for me to lose my momentum.

A small inconvenience turned big drama can make me stop writing for weeks, months, even years, really, if it’s substantial enough. And, all of this happens because I am not conscious of how much I am letting outside forces dictate my life. This is not to say that our problems are not valid because they are, but what much does that matter if we do little to help ourselves?

And, the truth is, this is not anyone’s fault but our own.

Don’t get sucked into other people’s problems, but also, do not blame them for having problems. Similarly, don’t get sucked into your own problems, but also, do not blame yourself for having them.

The problem is never nearly as important as the reaction or attitude towards it. We all have problems, but what are you going to do about it? That’s what really matters. Assuming you even need to solve it. Because sometimes we sign up for a battle that isn’t even ours.

Keeping calm in the midst of chaos is the ticket to a long and serious writing relationship. That is how we build discipline — by working when we don’t want to. As writers, we improve drastically by continuing our practice when life throws us a curve ball.

I like to compare the writer’s life to athletes in training.

Being miserable is exhausting. Writing requires your best self — your rested and focused self. The same can be said for any sport or activity. Writing is hard work, and I think admitting this fact is a step in the right direction. Knowing and accepting that writing is hard helps us understand that we can’t do it unless we’ve fully prepared our minds and bodies for it. We have to be ready to write, and being ready to write often means we need to take care of ourselves first.

Writing is the most demanding work I do, and I try to do it daily.

However, I know that for me to be able to do it daily, I have to eat 3 square meals, I have to be active, I have to prioritize my mental and physical health. At the end of the day, I find that this life — the writer’s life, is simply a healthy life. It helps to surround yourself with those who not only want to watch you succeed but also want to succeed themselves.

Again, this is why I say the writer’s life is much like the life of an athlete.

You must train like an athlete does. There is no doubt about it. Heck, you don’t have to be great. You don’t even have to be good. It doesn’t take a superstar to run a marathon, but you do have to train. And, rest. But, most of all, you have to conquer your head.

And, yes, this will make you unpopular. Why? Because putting yourself first in such a way requires a level of selfishness. You will ask others to step up to the plate and be better. You will also say no. A lot.

But, that’s what it takes. That’s what it takes to write a novel or compete in a marathon. Your training must come first — you can’t miss a day, or a week, especially not a month. Not if you want to reach the finish line. Protecting your writing schedule requires you to detach from everything else in your life, especially the drama, but before you can do that, you must believe writing can and will save your life.

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Writing From Your Compost Pile

Writers are often asked where they get their ideas from. And, always, there is this assumption that the best and most imaginative writers were brilliant and had brilliant ideas, when in fact, brilliance happened by accident – it was an unintentional result of a practice or a lifestyle.

Much like sex, it’s a desire, it’s an urge, it’s raw – a most natural act. It is not thinking, it’s more like breathing. When you’re in love, you don’t plot your sex life, do you? God, I hope not. You don’t know what works until you’re already there. You don’t make a schedule with your lover. If you submit yourself to your writing life, as absolutely ridiculous that sounds, the less you will worry about your ideas.

By submitting yourself to the writing life, you’re inadvertently sifting through your compost pile. That is where all of your material brines. It’s your history marinading in the backyard. This is all those parts of your past you threw out, it’s the stuff you keep covered, you filed away, sometimes to never look at again.

Everyone feeds their compost pile differently. Some, never at all. Eventually, it becomes fertilizer, it’s just for some of us, if you never touch it, you’ll be dead by the time it’s ready. I eat cake, write poetry, and play a shit ton of video games to digest mine. You can go to therapy to digest yours, or the amusement park.

If you’re looking for the next best seller, stop going across town. Importing stories that aren’t yours will not help you write. They won’t be authentic, and you’ll know it. Look towards your personal history, your passions, your concerns, your obsessions, and all these little details that shape your life. I’ve often said write what you know, and I believe this wholeheartedly. Thing is, the only thing you truly know is what you’ve lived. This doesn’t mean you can’t write a bomb-ass fantasy fiction novel. Because you can, and even then, the story will be bits and pieces of who you are. Your novel will be a mix of your home life and your favorite stories. Each character you build will be aspects of your personality or the personality of people in your life.

While you’re sifting through your compost pile, consider that it takes a while for all of that to sit well – to ripen and mature. You may not be able to write about events that happened yesterday or last year, depending on how painful it was. To see your history through clear eyes, they can’t be watery. You’ll need to walk around in it for a while, you’ll need to heal first. Then you’ll find the truth, then you’ll find the lesson. Then you’ll finally get your brilliant ideas. The beauty is, if you don’t like your compost, you can live differently. Then you’ll have other brilliant ideas.

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A Writer’s Guide to “Killing Your Darlings”

You’re not killin’ it until you’re killing your darlings.

If you’re a writer, a practitioner of this craft – a world builder, you’re probably fully aware that all good writers are self-critical.

“Kill your darlings” is a nothing short of a segment from your self-written writer’s manifesto, and if isn’t yet, it should be soon. What does killing your darlings mean for a writer? Killing your darlings, killing your babies, whatever you want to call it, might sound like a murderous violent task, but I assure you, if you do it correctly, it doesn’t have to be bloody. It’s quite simple actually: If something isn’t working in your writing, take it out. It could be a single word, a sentence, or even an entire chapter. As Will Rogers’ famous advice goes, ‘Never miss a good chance to shut the hell up’.

Your darlings are those sentences, paragraphs, or even whole chapters that tug at our heart strings.

They often lift us up and make us feel like we’re floating in the clouds. They bring up emotions that often link us to personal memories. They haunt us when we re-read them. We love how these words are organized, and we love how these words make us feel.

The problem is we can be so enchanted by these words, that we forget what we’re writing – we simply could not care less if it fits our story, or helps our writing in any way. In fact, these beloved anecdotes often serve us so deeply, but only confuse our readers. We love these words, but unfortunately, we do a huge disservice to our writing, to our readers, and to ourselves by keeping them.

This doesn’t mean you should limit yourself.

I’ve always believed that the first draft, of any piece of writing, is always written by the writer for the writer. It is not until the editing process begins that we start to consider the reader. Write uninhibited, write with ambition, and don’t concern yourself with labels, genres, or style.

We are not burying your works six feet under to be forgotten forever.

The great thing about it is although it’s necessary to kill our darlings, we do not need to arrange for a funeral service – we are not burying your works six feet under to be forgotten forever. Why? Because chances are, that piece of writing, although not fitting for your current project, is probably brilliant. And, if it makes you feel some type of way, you do not delete it forever.

Instead, save them for later – open up a Word document, CTRL-C, CTRL-P, then save. By doing this, we can keep moving forward while also relieving a little pressure off ourselves.

Storycraft – Kill Your Darlings

Now the real work begins.

You’ve removed the offensive cluster of words; now you must fill the gaping hole in your manuscript. Start by re-reading the section, paragraph, or chapter before the portion you cut, then immediately, yes – immediately, write a new version of that scene. Don’t over-think it, just let the words flow. Let the images in your head guide your pen (or keyboard – to each their own). Don’t concern yourself with the bits of words you exterminated before, just write like it’s your first time, and you’re simply continuing the story. Write it fresh, write it from within, like you already know how, and I promise you, it’ll come out so good, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear at the end.

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Introduction to Creative Non-Fiction

What is Creative Non-Fiction?

Creative Non-Fiction is your diary hidden under the mattress, your travelogues, your WordPress blog, it’s your overflowing binder of recipes, erotica, your favorite fanfiction, it’s your advice columns, Yelp reviews, satire news articles, and literary criticism. And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Literary Journalism

Creative Non-Fiction, also known as Literary Journalism, makes a great example of how flexible the practice and art form of writing truly is. Most of us adhere to the simple understanding of fiction and non-fiction being categorized by how factual the writing is. Creative Non-Fiction purposely blurs these lines; that fact alone is the reason why it is my preferred genre and the reason why I absolutely adore it so much. It is a reminder that a person’s individual truth is often subjective, whereas a concrete, well-supported fact, is not. Creative Non-Fiction enjoys dipping its toes in and out of sub-genres, rubbing people the wrong way, while often dancing all over and challenging a critic’s claims.

Sub-Genres

A basis for understanding this concept can be seen when observing sub-genres such as poetry, song-writing, or scriptwriting. Unlike personal essays or memoirs, where the foundation is in fact, real life, such a rule cannot be measured or tested in these works. Only the writer can verify whether or not their poetry, song-writing, or script is derived from real life, and how much of it is. Creative elements within poetry, song-writing, and scriptwriting, as well as style or theme, make such a claim impossible to measure.

Journaling – You’re Probably Already Doing It

Many types of writing, many of which you probably do often in your day-to-day life, is considered Creative Non-Fiction. In fact, journals, not to be confused with diaries, are the most common types of Creative Non-Fiction. Diaries are technically a type of journal in which you log or document the events of your day-to-day life, while a journal is any kind of written log – anything written with the intention to reference later. This can be a collection of recipes or a comprehensive guide to completing your long-term goals.

Susan Orlean Shows How to Find Subjects for Creative Non-Fiction

Literature vs. Journalism

Why has Creative Non-Fiction taken on the nickname of Literary Journalism? First, we must consider what Literature is, and why it holds value in Journalism. Literature, more specifically, is considered written work with a strong creative or artistic touch. Literature is the poetic element; the story-telling. It is the parts of writing that bring forth pleasure, imagery and other emotions. Journalism, objectively, is the reporting of facts. It often strives to inform the reader of events that are happening around them.

The Future of Creative Non-Fiction

Today, journalists instill elements of Creative Writing into their news reporting in order to make their stories more compelling. Many would advocate that this strategy blurs the facts, while others often suggest it is a competitive tactic driven by media giants and their desire to maximize readership, consumption, and profit. There is no doubt that the capitalistic nature of mass media influences what is produced, as well as what is distributed, however, the beauty of art, language, and literature is we are all free to write what it is we want, and most free when we do it. We are not restricted by what and who we share it with, either. Keep creating. Keep writing. Keep sharing it with the world.

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The Five R’s of Creative Non-Fiction

As an accomplished writer, professor, and renown expert in the genre of Creative Non-Fiction, there is no better mentor than Lee Gutkind to turn to when seeking writing advice. Regardless if you’re just beginning or have a few good years under your belt, listen up! In his essay, titled, “The Five R’s of Creative Non-Fiction”, he identifies 5 critical elements of Creative Non-Fiction. Below you will find a summary of these 5 elements.

Real Life

When constructing your personal essay or memoir, whatever your piece of Creative Non-Fiction may be, the absolute most vital component, and it’s most critical rule, is regarding factual content. It must be based on personal experience, real people, and real events. Write honestly. At no point will it be acceptable to invent or change the facts of your story to improve or increase the drama within. In short, the events of what happened must be true, and even more importantly, verifiable. If you’re writing a story about the events of your childhood, a vital character should not be able to petition your claim as incorrect or inauthentic.

Reflection

Taking the time to thoroughly reflect on the events in your story is very important. In fact, this is why it is recommended to outline your work before you begin writing. Sit down, reflect, and take notes on each event – it will make the writing process that much smoother! As I will mention in the next paragraph, research is vital to the writing process, and you will be spending a great deal of time analyzing the information gathered, as well as assessing your thoughts on what you’ve collected. Your reader wants to hear your personal thoughts, they want to learn more about your life – they’re interested in your perspective, but that doesn’t mean these opinions should not be well-researched and well-developed.

Research

What sets Creative Non-Fiction apart from other forms of Creative Writing is the journalistic component of the genre. This is why research is imperative. Your story must have a topic or central theme, and you must become an expert on this topic or theme. Use facts to support your claims. It is also acceptable to complete secondary research by interviewing a friend or family member present in your story. This is a fantastic idea because it gives the author a chance to verify dialogue taken place between family members. Another great suggestion is to review social media accounts, as well as personal journals or blog entries.

Reading

A good writer reads. A lot. They read, write, then read again. Similarly to any other field, it is without question that continuous training and retraining is required in order to stay ahead of the game. This is how we continue to move forward and ensure our writing is always improving. What does this entail for a Creative Non-Fiction writer? Perhaps we tirelessly engage in every guide published about our genre. That is, of course, not before we raid the new releases display at our local Barns & Noble! We owe it to the personal stories brewing in our hearts and minds – so, yes, please, read like their lives depend on it.

Writing

The only thing you’ll do more than reading is, of course, writing. Mastering your craft requires practice. You need to be neck-deep in your drafts. Can you put in the work? Can you be consistent? Can you build a habit?

What I’m trying to say is: Write. Each day, religiously. Make writing a form of worship. This is how you find your voice. Creative Non-Fiction often starts with a journal entry. The best way to start your memoir or personal essay is to simply start. Just write. Write your story, raw and uninhibited.

The best writing you will ever produce is what was written without restraint.

This is why I suggest starting in a place without rules. Heck, the actual writing part should be fun – an adventure. You should be having a ball. There should be fireworks, frankly.

It’s the editing that’s work. It’s coming back later to make sense of it all – when you need to start considering the reader, that’s when you actually clock-in.

Still, the beauty of writing is you get to become better by simply doing what you love.

Remember, you can always go back, with a red pen, and make it better.

Each word you put to paper is a step in the right direction.

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Literary Journalism: The Elements of Creative Non-Fiction

Core Elements of Creative Non-Fiction

Considering that Creative Nonfiction is also known as Literary Journalism, there is no surprise that the core elements of this genre are comprised of equal parts literature and journalism! Many would say that ‘anything goes’ when it comes to writing Creative Non-Fiction, but there are still concrete guidelines to help you write a superb essay!

What makes good writing, good writing? In all cases, good writing is both clear and concise. What does that mean? Well, we’re not unintentionally leaving the reader confused or in the dark. We’re also making sure our audience has all the information they need to grasp or comprehend the message we’re trying to get across. We’re saying just enough, but not too much. This is all especially true for Creative Non-Fiction.

Journalistic Elements

  • Facts: What are facts? Facts are simply anything that isn’t completely made up. They’re true, accurate, and authentic.
  • Exposition: Explaining your personal experience clearly and concisely is crucial.
  • Supporting Details: Even if your Personal Essay or Memoir is rooted in personal experience, it is still necessary to expand your story beyond the main character, which is often going to be yourself.
    • Research – As I will mention in more detail below, a theme, focal point, or lesson is crucial for any piece of writing. Your reader will ask, “What am I gaining from reading this? What new information am I learning?” Your work will ultimately have a topic, and that topic will be relatable to others in some way or another. Further research this topic.
    • Reportage – Writing a story is often difficult without the ability to reference events. Photographs, journals, blogs and social media are great resources for this. Before you begin writing, outline your first draft and assure that it is in chronological order. You will also want to make sure all significant points or events are well organized within your story ahead of time.
    • Thoughts and Opinion – A Personal Essay requires a personal touch. Make sure you include thoughts, feelings, and opinions.
  • Format: Creative Non-Fiction is often written in an Essay format. They include an introduction, supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion at the end.

Literary Elements

  • Narrative: A narrative is simply a story.
    • Storytelling – A story requires several events (or scenes), goals, challenges or obstacles, a climax or turn of events, and of course, a resolution.
    • Character – Every story needs a central theme, which in most cases will be the main character. Although chances are, the main character will be you, the reader does not know you, but they desperately want to. Help them know you.
    • Imagery – Describe your surroundings. Describe your emotions with actions. Instead of saying, “I was angry”, you could say, “I stormed out of the room; I punched a hole in the wall.” You want your reader to see what you see. They want to be there and experience it for themselves.
    • Dialogue – Include vital conversations between the characters in your story. This is especially important for all Non-Fiction. Your readers will want to see an account of what was said by whom and to whom.
  • Theme: Although the main character and topic for the story will often be you, there still must be a theme – a lesson, something your reader can take away from your story.
  • Setting: Where is this all taking place? Make sure you ground the story in a place and allow the reader to visually see what it is you see. You may know what your home looks like, or your city, but the reader probably does not.
  • Plot / Structure: These are your scenes, chapters, and the order they go in.

Don’t know where to start?

I always say the best place to start is always by reading. Here you can find great examples of Creative Non-Fiction novels and publications that often feature many Creative Non-Fiction essays.

Novels

  • Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Three Cups of Tea – Greg Mortenson
  • Committed – Elizabeth Gilbert
  • The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin

Magazines

  • The Atlantic
  • The New Yorker
  • Vanity Fair
  • Esquire
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The Self-Centered Routine for Creative Visionaries

Prioritize You

Yikes! I know you see it. I do too – those two bad words sticking out like a sore thumb: self-centered, and routine. Terrible title, isn’t it? I’m hoping that after reading the clusters of paragraphs I have laid out in front of you, you will re-discover the meaning for both. The truth is, it’s okay to prioritize you. You should be at the center of your life. What does that mean? Your visions come before the visions of others. Additionally, having a routine doesn’t mean your life is suddenly void of any ounce of fun or spontaneousness. I am here to share with you how I have learned to master the routine, and put myself at the center of it, each and every day, and how that alone has allowed me to put my dreams on a pedestal and accomplish them.

The Daily Routine

Creative visionaries, like you and me, live each day hoping to one day stand with greatness. Their secret weapon, that is often left unspoken, the rule that both Woody Allen and Ernest Hemmingway adhere to is the daily routine. Hemingway wrote 500 words a day, rain or shine. Allen once said that success is 80% showing up. If you want to create something worthwhile in your lifetime, if you want to write things, make things, do things, be things – you need not wait for inspiration to come knocking. Honey, you break that door down. You show up, and you work.

Habit and Discipline

I have often whined to friends of creative dry spells. For years, in fact, I did not write, and you know what? I hadn’t done a damn thing about it. Today I know that it wasn’t inspiration I was lacking, but habit and discipline. The hardest decision then becomes not the writing itself but prioritizing it over everything and everyone else. And, indeed, it is a hard decision to make, but a necessary one if you want to accomplish the things you wish to accomplish in your life. When I wrote and published my first book, I had so much fire in my heart, but few responsibilities. So, naturally, it was easy for me to say, “Hey, I’m going to write this book, and I officially don’t give a shit about anything else until it’s finished.” And, guess what? I finished it. In fact, I did almost nothing but write for days on end. I skipped meals. I took a pen and paper into the bathroom – yes, I know, gross. I was so immersed in my book, that I didn’t care very much about anything else. I didn’t have nearly as many bills to pay or obligations to fulfill as I do now. So, as you can imagine, it has become increasingly harder for me to reach similar heights of creative productivity (or, Creative “Zen”, as I like to call it), and even harder for me to prioritize me when the rest of the world needs me. Now, more than ever, I realize habit and discipline are the true keys to any craft.

The hard part is often not our needs, but the needs of others. Sometimes drastic measures need to be taken. Thankfully for us, in no way are these measures truly drastic. All you have to do is pick a few hours out of your day where you become unavailable. For a few hours, at dawn or dusk, you simply fall off the face of the earth. No phone, no e-mail, no social media – you become completely unavailable. Put that worry out of your mind! I know you’re feeling it – I promise, you won’t miss anything. That’s the truth! That text message isn’t dire, neither is your boss’s e-mail. I’m sure by now you’ve realized just how unpopular this decision will make you. Listen, they will survive without you for a few hours, and if they’re sensible human beings, or give a crap about you, they’ll understand. The irony of worrying about the priorities of others is that you actually miss out on yours.

Now on to the novel you’re trying to write, or the business you’re trying to build – can you work on it every day? For any day that you can work, you probably should. If you can watch a film for an hour, or play a video game, or skim through your social media feeds (I see you!), you can surely work. Let’s say you work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Heck, let’s say 10, because of traffic, bad breakfast digestion, and your offspring. That leaves you 14 hours. Of course, you must sleep, so now you have 6 hours left. Give yourself 1/2 of that time to food, friends, and family, and you’re left with 3. Most days, try to dedicate 2 of them to your dreams, your goals, your creative aspirations, but 1 is more than enough. Of course, your routine will fit your unique life, and meet your specific goals, and sometimes an hour just isn’t realistic. At the end of the day, it really comes down to using that creative mind of yours and making time. Buy a crockpot. Talk to your loved ones. Can they help you make time? It’s going to come down to planning, prioritizing, and persistence. If you can sit down and write your novel for 15 minutes, that is certainly better than none, and making that commitment, no matter how small, is what leads to results.

You’re Not Actually Showing Up If You’re Not Working

The real question is, how can you make the most of those precious 15 minutes? Right away, I must say, there is no point in showing up at all if you’re not prepared to work. Yes, 80% of success is showing up, but you’re not actually showing up if you’re not working. You’re not showing up by sitting on that fat bum of yours and sulking. If that’s the case, you really could be doing something else! (Frankly, I recommend going for ice cream.) Before I discourage you, there are ways to show up, every day, with a stellar game plan, regardless if you’re there for 15 minutes or 15 hours (I’ve done this – I don’t recommend it.)

Time Management

Although detailed daily planners are a great investment to improve organization and time management in your life, they’re often only as effective as how realistic you are about the time and energy you have, as well as the effort required to complete your tasks. I love planners, but I don’t necessarily believe they actually help me become more productive or useful. For most of us, things naturally get done when they need to be done, and planners can only do so much for laziness. Although it does help me keep track of my day-to-day needs, I believe there is a subtle illusion of productivity attached to them. There is a lot of instant gratification in putting a check mark next to a task you’ve completed. All I’m asking of you is a small, realistic – emphasis of realistic, list of goals for the day. On this list, in a small outline of the tasks, you will complete for your creative work. Keep in mind that most things can wait until tomorrow, and there is really no purpose is doing things before they need to get done.

Set Firm Edges

I think in a lot of ways, it’s safe to say that creative work doesn’t necessarily bode well with classic concepts of professionalism. This section is all about why I think multitasking prevents us from reaching our ultimate potential as creative visionaries. I don’t think that professionalism necessarily creates forward-thinking, exceptional, remarkable, new and exciting products for us. I think saying “fuck you” to professionalism does. This is not to say that professionalism doesn’t have its own place, but the work that we’re doing – creative work – it has no place. This is not your office gig. This is not data-entry. To create something remarkable in your lifetime, you need to be at your best, bring your best, and focus all of your energy into a single entity. A great thing requires all of your power. This is essentially why setting firm edges are too important to ignore. What do I mean by firm edges? You need to be strict about when you make time for creative work and the quality of the work you’re doing during this time. Nothing is to bleed into the next section, or into the one you’re currently working in. You begin when it’s time, and you stop when it’s time, and you do nothing but what it is intended to be done during this time. In short, do not multi-task.

Energy Levels

Most of us have a time of day in which we’re most alert and energetic. This is the best time for creative work. This is not the time for data-entry if you catch my drift. You may not realize it now, but these are truly the most valuable moments of your day. This is when you’re at your best, so anything important or difficult that needs to get done, should be done at this time. I find early mornings to be the best time for work. Preferably before the rest of the house has awoken. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and open your favorite word processor. You need to find a space where you can be with just you and your creative mind for a few minutes, or hours. Mastering this part has a lot to do with getting to know yourself. The same can be said about the next, and last section of this article.

Creative Triggers

Believe it or not, familiarity can trigger creative energy far more easily than new landscapes. When we put ourselves into a routine, giving ourselves surroundings that are familiar, it sends a trigger to our brains that say, oh! it’s time for work. It is also comfortable and puts us in a calm state. We are not busy processing and taking in all the new multi-sensory surroundings, therefore, we can focus and get to work quicker.

The Hardest Part? When It’s Time to Finally Become a Professional

Figuring out what makes you tick as an artist is only half the battle. Consider that you found your routine, you honed your craft, and you mastered your practice. Unfortunately, it’s not over. Believe it or not, the actual hard part has not even begun. No one is born a professional, in the way that some claim to be born an artist. Although an artist’s primary goal is rarely monetary gain, it is often exposure. More so, the ability to connect and relate to their audience. I think artists specifically want to reach people, and lock hearts and minds with another, even for just a moment. The problem is, in order for an artist to do this, they must actually become salesmen. They sell their ideas, their words, and, of course, themselves. There is simply no other way to reach another, without first unleashing them and becoming vulnerable. So, yes, the hardest part is becoming a professional, and what that means for artists is becoming brave.

Do you want to know what’s even harder than that – what’s harder than the hardest thing of all – an artist’s greatest fear? It is fear of being criticized and deemed a fraud – simply not being good enough. This is a shared concerned by me, you, and everyone else on earth. You’re telling the world, “Hey! I worked super hard on this! I poured my heart, soul, and literal brain into it – I kind of, sort of, believe I might possibly be good at this. Maybe, just maybe, I know what I’m talking about.” When in fact, you’re a student, like me, and it is not entirely that black and white. I am no expert, and I hope you didn’t crawl in this thick head of mine, take a seat, with hopes of being enlightened. There are no true masters here. We are all learning.

A true artist works hard at their routine, and at their craft, but even more so, accepts they have much to teach, and even more so, to learn. They know we can all become a little bit stronger, a little bit better, a little bit smarter, by opening our eyes and ears to each other.

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