Sunday, July 15, 2012

see one, do one, teach one

This week I'm getting ready to begin! Again! As I mentioned in my last post, next weekend I'll be at my first nonfiction conference--the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference in Dallas (

I wanted to attend this particular conference for a couple of reasons. First, my SIL went last year, and she raved about it. In fact, she invited me to go with her this year. Am I one to turn down a visit with my family that includes southern hospitality--meaning free room and board? Not likely.

Second, I've written a couple of nonfiction pieces over the years, and I want to polish them up. But, like the novel, I suspect there are certain conventions that need to be observed in writing the essay. The problem is I have no idea what they are. When writing a novel, I have learned (the hard way...) that there are certain conventions that label you as a rank know-nothing. For example:
  • Never start your novel with a funeral, or a description of the weather, or with a dream sequence.
  • Show, don't tell.
  • Avoid adjectives and adverbs whenever possible.
  • Use active verbs, and avoid passive constructions.
When I started writing my first novel, I barely understood the terms "story arc" and "character arc."
Point of view violations are still a problem for me. But, I think I'm getting better at it. I've learned a lot.

So, my idea was to learn as much about the essay form from the best people I could, in the least amount of time, as soon as possible. Hence, I jumped at the invitation to attend this conference.

Now I'm wading through my pre-conference "homework"--critiquing the essays of nine other writers in advance of a day-long critique and revision workshop.

This is a little like signing up for your first computer class, and being required to write the program for it before you show up for the first session! 

I don't know what I'm doing! That's why I signed up for this conference in the first place!

When educator John Holt said, "We learn to do something by doing it. There is no other way," I hope he knew what he was talking about. In med school, it went like this: "See one. Do one. Teach one."

I have a lifetime worth of nonfiction I would like write about, and I want to do it right. So this looks like a good place for me to begin. Again. Wish me luck.

Do you think it's easier to market nonfiction than fiction? Do you think it's easier to write non-fiction?

"Genuine beginnings begin within us,
even when they are brought to our attention
by external opportunities."
--William Bridges--
In my next post, I'll share some of what I learn at this conference.

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