A Beginner’s Musings on Creative Nonfiction Writing – Summoning the Muse Part 1

Creative Nonfiction

       Here’s a submission from my Creative Nonfiction Writing class:


There is a line in the movie “History of the World, Part 2” that I have adapted to describe my adventures in writing. Dom DeLuise, who’s playing the Emperor Caesar, interrupts the activity and declares, “Wait, the Muse is upon me, I must recite a poem.” I think about that line often as I write my essays for the Creative Nonfiction Writing classes I’m taking at Emory University. For my purpose, I change it to “Please, Muse! Come unto me. I must write!”

After eight months of writing – correction, seriously writing in preparation of doing this for the rest of my life, I’ve learned more than just the elements of nonfiction writing. I’ve learned about myself as a writer, and about how I fit into the world of nonfiction writing. In addition, there are the “The Assumptions” that I had about writing that were quickly proven false. Not a discouraging discovery at all, but definitely giving me pause…albeit only for a moment or two to reorient myself, not abandon the journey.

The First Assumption: Creativity can be summoned out of thin air. It’s connected to a switch one can flip. The Muse is not fleeting, fickle, and acts on her own whim. She comes when called, especially when she’s told the due date. Open the file, fingers ready on the keyboard, and wait… wait…wait for the words to be whispered into my ear.

The Second Assumption:  Nonfiction Creative Writing doesn’t require any emotional investment, any part of me, to be a part of the writing process. In addition, I don’t pay attention to the “Creative” part of the genre name; at least I initially don’t give it the proper respect. My thoughts are on magazine articles, straight reporting. A book will come later. I’m thinking “should be no problem, just slap the letters on the page and they’ll tell the story automatically. How much thinking is required?”

I am enrolled in the program to fulfill one of my lifelong ambitions – to write. I’ve done some before, the most serious effort occurring during my brief time writing for a new, local magazine that lasts only a few issues. All I write are interviews, and what I know about writing at that time results in my practically creating a public relation piece for the subject. No probing questions, no insightful queries, no warming up to make anyone reveal inner thoughts, no Sixty Minutes make ‘em sweat questions.

For over thirty years, any writing I do is for my corporate job, and it’s predominately technical. There’s no “creativity” in writing procedures for ordering routers, summarizing internet capacity growth, or writing meeting summaries. I’m thinking I can carry the same process to creative nonfiction writing.

With caution written across his face like the wanderer who has seen the horrors that lies ahead, Dennis pointed out to the team that, unlike the halcyon days under previous ownership, our new direction, swept along by the winds of change that affects both local and remote offices, now carries us to the vast expanse of unchartered territory and new opportunities.  The project was approved by all department representatives present, and will be forwarded to all affected Directors by COB Thursday. 

Everything I learn batters at my assumptions like waves upon a sand castle. I begin by purchasing enough books on writing to open a bookstore branch, and the first books I read are about the process of writing. Free writing, Journaling. Collections.  I try them all. The First Assumption becomes shattered, as they run head on into my impatience. Ah, what did I read about writing becoming a journey of self-discovery? The first steps are taken. Collecting and journaling implies time. A process…a long, slow process in my mind. A moment occurs… write it down…for someday I can use it. “Someday” is a concept I struggle with in every aspect of my life. “Now” is a concept that comes easily to me, sometimes to my benefit, sometimes to my detriment. I “now” learn that I, as a writer, must work with the Muse. Call upon her, but be damn sure I’m ready when she replies. I “now” learn that to be a better writer, I have to be as patient with this as I have to be in other parts of my life. Think, and let the words come together.

Free writing works best for me. Let me add, “As advertised.” As prescribed, I just write and write with my subject in mind. Ah, done. All thoughts are now on paper. Now I have to remember to be patient, and reshape the thoughts into a coherent structure. Structure, an area needing more development. Even with the brain dump, I still stare at the words, calling on my Muse to magically move them around. I  now know that there’s still another step I must take. It’s a lesson I’ve learned from golf – a simple little thing called “practice.”

I see the same mantra repeated in just about every book I’ve read – “the more you write, the better you’ll become.” Practice. The Muse has been speaking to me. I’m asking for magic – yesterday, thank you, please. The Muse is telling me her magic requires things of me: practice, and patience. The First Assumption has been washed away.

… to be continued


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