I’m taking a four-week online workshop, Creative NonFiction Four by Four, offered by Lisa Romeo. Monday was our first day of class and I’m so glad I signed up. It’s a great group of writers and Lisa’s online lecture, reading assignments and writing assignments are excellent. My Sunday Style posts for the next four weeks will be dedicated to one thing I learn each week.
This week’ s discussion focused on details. For one assignment, I submitted a portion of an unpublished essay about being the wife of a stay-at-home dad. In my revision, I focused on increasing the details…the right details…and it helped immensely. Lisa’s feedback noted improvements in the essay and she gave me some excellent advice:
I know it’s tough, but try to allow yourself to be a narrator who is completely human – which means FLAWED – not always right, positive and upbeat, but sometimes unlikable, contrary, wrong or negative.
She is so right — oh no, I’m being positive, but in this case it’s true. I have a tendency to want to wipe up the crumbs and sweep them under the carpet in life and now I’m realizing this is also the case in what I write. I think I do this subconsciously so that an essay can flow or have a nice, tidy ending or to demonstrate that the narrator is a “nice, shiny, happy person”.
However, in the essays that I read, the ones that stick with me or that help me learning something are those in which the narrators really shine because of their imperfection and their humanness. I think of Anne Lamott and how in her essays she admits to mistakes, to fumbles and to real emotion. For example, as she writes in an excerpt from her book, Plan B, that was published on Salon.com:
There are times when [my son] Sam is so mouthy that all I can do is pray for a sense of humor and absurdity, even the size of a mustard seed. Otherwise, I look at C’s on progress reports, and see him at 30 taking orders at Taco Bell. If, with his handwriting, he could even get that job. Or he gets sent home from school for participating in a mud fight, and I think, Tim McVeigh. Or I realize, I don’t like this child, I shouldn’t have had kids, and it’s all hopeless. All I can do is pray: HELP!
That is so vivid in part because of the details and in part because she’s flawed, she’s not a mother writing, “I love my son. Even when he is a hellian, he’s an angel to me.” No, instead, she says, I’m a real person, a real mother, he’s a real kid and we are making it through all of this mud and yuck and beauty, together.
As I continue to work on my essay, I’m going to do my best to let the flaws, and the details, hang out. I’m betting that I’m going to be a lot happier with it and so will my readers.