The Mystery of Nonfiction

The essay I’ve been workshopping first arrived as fragments. A few lyrical vignettes and a prose poem. An unruly thing, it spidered into tangents, most of which had to be lopped off. The extraction file has four times the word count of the working piece. Various incarnations float on my desktop under different titles. It’s taken a long time to shape, and even still, it isn’t finished. But it’s getting close.

It’s a nonfiction piece, but I don’t know how the story ends. The truth is slippery, elusive, and there are endless ways to tell it. Lately I’ve been tracking the way some of my favorite writers’ truths appear as essays, then novels, then memoirs. You can’t escape the truth, but neither can you capture it–at least not cleanly. It shapeshifts with time and perspective. It lures and resists, daring us to transform it into story. Put pen to paper, watch it wink and run.

(Post 115 of 365)


3 thoughts on “The Mystery of Nonfiction”

  1. You describe it so well. Sometimes I had a story that spidered into tangents, that hounded me for years, that never, never worked, but then one line found its way into a song, became the whole axis of the song, and I don’t think it could have happened without all that work on the story that never worked. The truth really shapeshifts. I do think sometimes one or two basic truths drive most all of our work. (Not sure if this contradicts what I wrote earlier…but…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love this! A years-long story producing the axis of a song. The mystery of arriving at that final form. The way creating means coaxing, nurturing, tending, abandoning, returning, shaping, and re-shaping.

      “I do think sometimes one or two basic truths drive most all of our work.” I love this insight–I’ve been turning it over again and again.


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