The quote above comes from one of my favorite writer self-soothing blankets, namely, “Outlaw Heart” by Jayne Anne Phillips. I’m starting there because it cleans the room and returns me to the self who values writing more than having a clean house.
Since I’ve been working on a large batch of CNF lately—and Phillips is so helpful in that space of fear and concern— I thought I’d share other essays and resources that I’ve found to be helpful.
Starting with notebooks. And why to keep them.
Annie Dillard, “Write Till You Drop” (New York Times)
Joan Didion, “On Keeping a Notebook” (PDF)
Susan Sontag, “On Style” (PDF)
Moving into structure and forms—how to fashion the best vehicle for the piece.
Ander Monson, “The Designed Essay: Design As Essay” (PDF)
Donald Barthelme, “Not Knowing” (PDF)
E. v. de Cleyre,” Morphology of the Essay” (Ploughshares blog)
E. v. de Cleyre, “Begin Again: On Essays in Nonfiction” (Ploughshares blog)
Erika Anderson, “I Craft, Therefore I Am: Creating a Persona Through Syntax and Style” (Hunger Mountain)
Jennifer Gravley, “White Space: An Annotation” (Brevity)
John Proctor, “7 Things I Learned From Reading 15 List Essays” (Numero Cinq)
Krys Malcolm Belk, “On ‘First Seen in Print in 1987, According to Merriam Webster’” (Black Warrior Review)
Linnie Green, “In the Mines: A Craft Essay on Creative Nonfiction” (Cleaver Magazine)
Q. Lindsey Barrett, “7 Ways to Seduce Your Reader” (Hunger Mountain)
Then voice and various voice-related techniques..
Gwendolyn Edward, “Beyond Perhapsing: “Split-Toning Techniques for Speculation in Nonfiction” (Brevity)
Jonathan Lethem, “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism” (Harper’s)
Karen Sabine, “8 Variations on the Idea of a Sentence” (Brevity)
Kurt Vonnegut, “How to Write With Style” (PDF)
Lisa Knopp, “Perhapsing: The Use of Speculation in Creative Nonfiction” (Brevity)
Michael Downs, “Me, Myself, I: Idiosyncrasy and Structure in Nonfiction” (Triquarterly)
Michael Noll, “Apply the (Perhaps) Most Famous Fiction Exercise of All Times to Your Essays”(Brevity Nonfiction Blog)
Phillip Lopate, “Reflection and Retrospection: A Pedagogic Mystery Story” (The Fourth Genre)
Robert Vivian, “The Essay As An Open Field” (Numero Cinq)
Susan Hall, “Now and Then: The Binary Dimension of the Authorial Voice in Memoir” (Numero Cinq)
Finally, ways to bring yourself to the page without losing it. The complex tangles of saying what you mean without promising you will mean it forever.
In writing witness, how to convey trauma without creating a spectacle? To present violence without repugnance or reaction? What do we owe the reader? How is this balanced against what we owe ourselves and loved ones?
Ele Pawelski, “Found in Translation: How My Memoir of Life Overseas Turned Into a Novella” (Cleaver)
Francine Prose and Leslie Jamison, “Is It OK to Mine Real Relationships for Literary Material?” (New York Times)
Gina Iron, “Writing First-Personal Journalism About Trauma” (Hunger Mountain)
Joan Didion, “Why I Write”
Laura Rose-Russell, “There’s a Reason They Call it Show AND Tell: How to Reveal Thoughts, Emotions, and Motivations Without Sentimentality” (Numero Cinq)
Leslie Lindsay, “Is Memoir Automatically Therapeutic? A Craft Essay on Writing About Mental Health” (Cleaver Magazine)
Liz Stephens, “Creative Lies I Tell My Nonfiction Students” (Cleaver Magazine)
Meghan Culhaine Galbraith, “Child’s Play: How Creative Play Helped Unlock My Nonfiction Writing” (Cleaver Magazine)
Nina Puro, “Mary Karr Names Names” (The Fix)
Pam Houston, “Corn Maze” (Hunger Mountain)
Sherry Simpson, “Tiny Masters: An Artful Trick to Writing Personal Essays” (Brevity: The Craft Blog)
And a few good essays to read when you need inspiration:
Andrea Jarrell, “A Measure of Desire” (New York Times)
Beverly Donofrio, “Meanness” (Brevity)
Cheryl Strayed, “Write Like a Motherfucker” (The Rumpus)
George Orwell, “Why I Write” (PDF)
Joy Williams, “Uncanny the Singing That Comes from Certain Husks” (PDF)
Melissa Febos, “Intrusions” (Tin House)
Michelle Zauner, “Crying in H Mart” (New Yorker)
Sandra Felice Robinson, “The B Side of Blackness” (Believer)