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My first ENG-207 assignment (#1016)

Topics/tags: Writing

I turned in my first writing assignment for The Craft of Creative Nonfiction yesterday. In case you don’t know, the general framework for assignments in that class is something like the following.

Pick one of the model pieces that we’ve read in this genre or subgenre.

Identify some techniques the writer uses in that piece and assign yourself to use them in your piece.

Write a five-to-six-page manuscript.

I got to choose between the following models:

  • Place & Travel, Day 1
    • Edward Abbey’s Havasu, taken from Desert Solitaire.
    • Gretel Ehrlich’s Island.
    • Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place.
  • Place & Travel, Day 2
    • Colin Whitehead’s The Port Authority.
    • Susan Orlean’s A Place Called Midland.
    • Laurence Gonzales’ Marion Prison.
    • Tito Mukhopadhyay’s Plankton Dreams, Chapter 7.
    • Tito Mukhopadhyay’s Plankton Dreams, Chapter 8 [1].
    • Tito Mukhopadhyay’s Plankton Dreams, Chapter 9.
  • Place & Travel, Day 3
    • An excerpt from Luis Alberto Urrea’s From Across the Wire.
    • Tito Mukhopadhyay’s Plankton Dreams, Chapter 10.
    • The epilogue to Tito Mukhopadhyay’s Plankton Dreams [2].
    • Ralph Savarese’s afterword to Plankton Dreams [3].
  • Place & Travel, Day 4
    • Michael Martone’s Manufacturing Place

Which did I choose? I ended up debating between two model pieces from the first day of this segment, either the Ehrlich piece, which we discussed, and the Edward Abbey piece, which we did not. The Ehrlich was a bit more lyrical and, while I did not need to replicate all that lyricism, I ended finding more that I liked (and thought I could replicate) in the Abbey piece. I did want to borrow Ehrlich’s use of multiple definitions of a word, but there was more in the Abbey that resonated. What about the Kincaid piece? The Kincaid piece, while wonderful, was also painful, and I thought I’d do myself and Kincaid a disservice by trying to replicate that tone.

Here’s the assignment I wrote for myself. Implicit in the assignment is include these seven forms. I tended to consider smaller aspects of the writing, rather than broader issues. I think those work well as I work to improve my writing.

Based on Edward Abbey’s Havasu, from Desert Solitaire, reprinted in Contemporary Creative Nonfiction, The Art of Truth, Roorbach (ed.), pp. 424–428.

  1. Sneak in the lyrics to a popular song by breaking them up.

    Barstow … San Bernardino (p. 424)

  2. Rule of three, using two identical short sentences and then expanding in the third.

    I went for walks. I went for walks. I went for walks and on one of these, the last I took in Havasu, regained everything that seemed to be ebbing away. (p. 426)

  3. Write about something indirectly, without saying explicitly what it is.

    where no one with tangible substance or the property of reflecting light ever entered (p. 426) [4]

  4. Reverse a trope or role.

    I’m not sure that I care for the idea of strangers examining my daily habits and folkways, studying my language, inspecting my costume, questioning me about my religion, classifying my artifacts, investigating [5] my sexual rites and evaluating my chances for cultural survival. (p. 424)

  5. Use an adverb or a single word as a sentence by itself, suggesting multiple meanings.

    The first thing I did was take off my pants. Naturally. (p. 425)

  6. Violate the reader’s expectations of one of the characters.

    On the way we stopped off briefly to roll an old tire into the Grand Canyon (p. 424) [6]

  7. Add an appropriate, but somewhat sarcastic, parenthetical comment about something unexpected you’ve just revealed about a character.

    I had some matches with me, sealed in paraffin (the prudent explorer). (p. 429)

You probably need to read the whole piece to understand the broader context of each of those. I’d recommend it.

Now that I read it in this form, I wonder if I should have stuck with those seven issues. I know I left out a major aspect of the Abbey piece, but that seems okay; folks didn’t assign themselves an object when using the Frank Conroy piece. I really loved the parenthetical, the naturally [7], and the way he describes Native Americans thinking about him, so it seemed unavoidable to include them and, hence, to choose Abbey as my model.

Tomorrow, you can see what I wrote.

[1] I’ve listed the chapters separately because it seems we could use any one of them as a source.

[2] The epilogue did not seem appropriate to use as the source of a piece, but we did have to read it for day 3.

[3] Same for the afterword.

[4] Isn’t that a great way to talk about the presence of ghosts?

[5] Damn! I wrote investing when I turned it in. Ah, the joy of typos.

[6] It turns out that this isn’t as much of a violation as I thought. For someone who writes so eloquently about nature, Abbey appears to be fairly casual with it. A friend told me that Abbey used to measure distances by the number of beer cans he tossed out the car or truck window along the way.

[7] Grammarly doesn’t like the naturally in this musing. It probably won’t like it in my musing, either.

Version 1.0 of 2020-02-12.