Habits of Mind for Creative Nonfiction Sonya Huber's ENW 206: Creative Nonfiction

First, Notice.

What does the world deliver?

What is the world presenting you with, minute to minute?

What you notice provides clues to understanding who you are, whose you are, what you care about, what troubles you, and who you are called to be.

We write scenes, free-write, do research, and collect details and memories in order to see the world. This is a discipline of noticing and paying attention.

“The very nicest thing about being a writer is that you can afford to indulge yourself endlessly with oddness, and nobody can really do anything about it, as long as you keep writing and kind of using it up, as it were.” --Shirley Jackson

What's Your Oddness?

Notice what you like, what draws your eye. What makes you happy. Write for five minutes about little things that you find satisfying, cool, or beautiful.

Now turn your eye inward. notice the weather inside.

What images, moments, questions, and challenges rattle around inside your head and heart? We'll investigate this further.

Our job is to watch our hearts to see what they leap in response to-- in order to understand the weird specificity of the human heart. (painting by Andrea Kowch)

Second: ask.

Ask the burning questions in your life, the big ones, the scary ones, the questions without answers. The secret ones about what brings you joy. What do you believe? Why?
"The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe." -- Gustave Flaubert (painting by Robert Hudson)

We bring to art our real-life questions, and we seek answers. That requires risk and a kind of free-fall, digging into the unknown and making a map.

We pose questions so we can look deeply.

A piece of art is an attempt to ask or address a question, or solve a problem.

John Baldessari, "Solving Each Problem As It Arises"

In asking questions, we commit to making detailed studies of the world and ourselves. What is really going on? What do we see?

Writing creative nonfiction is a way to train our vision to see our memories and experiences in new ways and to ask ourselves what these things mean to us and why they matter, what they reveal.

This slays me. My kid, ready to fight zombies.

This is a place to begin research. Not into the expected (Yes, I love my kid.) but what I DON’T I know about this. What is really going on? What do I see? What questions could this raise for me?

Anything that snags at our hearts is a place to begin.

Third... Connect.

Connecting with readers happens in a way that seems, at first, paradoxical.

As we dive deep into the specific of our lives, we find the route to the universal.

(another painting, "Easel," by Robert Hudson)

Your specific interest, your specific obsession, the route to your concern, is a map that others can read and connect with because following that trail is familiar.

We all know what it's like to not know, to pursue, to follow.

To make art we also connect by using the muscle of associative thinking. We watch our own tangents and claim them.

We juxtapose unlikely things and see what the result might be.
How do these speak to each other?

We pull together threads of our lives and ask ourselves: how do these pieces connect?

We let ourselves be surprised by the answers.
Art can be odd, unsettling, question-provoking. That feeling is the movement of your heart. Why does this toothy dog in my dentist's office weird me out? The answer is often not obvious. Sometimes there's a blank space, a feeling of-not knowing, before connections emerge.
We study the pieces like a stuffed egret studies the solar system. How might these pieces go together? We try them in arrangements and structures like a puzzle, like a toy.

Don't be afraid to offer the wacky answer, the strange connection.

That's the risk that makes art.

Creating art out of our lives--what we've done, what we know, what we wonder--helps us to tackle the question about how our lives matter and what they mean from moment to moment. Essays and memoirs help us see how one person fits into the web of life. There is both magic and dignity in looking at everyday life and finding or making beauty, even in the midst of the hard stuff.

xoxox, Sonya (for questions please email me at shuber (at) fairfield.edu

Created By
Sonya Huber


Photo credits in presentation. Where not noted, photos by Sonya Huber

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