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Another assignment for The Craft of Creative Nonfiction (#1040)

Topics/tags: Writing

Today I turned in my second manuscript + assignment for English 207, The Craft of Creative Nonfiction. As you may recall from a previous musing, we are supposed to pick a model piece from those we read, identify some techniques the author used, turn those into guidelines in an assignment for ourselves, and then write a five-to-six-page manuscript that follows those guidelines.

This musing contains the assignment I wrote for myself, along with a few additional comments. Over the next few days, I’ll post various forms of the manuscript, or comments on the manuscript, or something like that.


Based on David Foster Wallace’s [1] Consider the Lobster, from Gourmet Magazine (The Magazine of Good Living) [2], reprinted in Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: Work from 1970 to Present, Williford and Martone (eds.), pp. 525–541.

  1. Use footnotes for commentary, citations, and random bits of knowledge. They can be extremely short or absurdly long. [3]

  2. In addition to those footnotes, add facts and commentary in parenthetical remarks.

    And in the Main Eating Tent, you can get aquarter" (industry standard for a 1¼-pound lobster)" (p. 528)

    You need a large kettle w/cover, which you feel about half full with water (the standard advice is that you want 2.5 quarts of water per lobster). (p. 530)

    The cabdriver (who’s in his seventies, one of apparently a whole platoon of retirees the cab company puts on to help with the summer rush, and wears a U.S.-flag lapel pin, and drives in what can only be called a very deliberate way). (p. 532)

  3. Pile things upon things upon things in a single sentence.

    The 2003 Festival highlights: concerts by Lee Ann Womack and Orleans, annual Maine Sea Goddess beauty pageant, Sunday’s big parade, Sunday’s William G. Atwood Memorial Crate Race, annual Amateur Cooking Competition, carnival rides and midway attractions and food booths, and the MLF’s Main Eating Tent …. (p. 526)

  4. Employ a form of meta-writing, one that makes explicit that you know that you are writing this piece and that others may be reading or editing it. [4]

    But, since this FN will almost surely not survive magazine-editing anyway, here goes. (p. 529, footnote).

  5. Use at least one extended quotation.

    DFW uses a paragraph-long quotation from Peter Singer in the second footnote on p. 536 and a pronouncement on lobsters on pain from the MLF program on p. 533.

  6. Incorporate at least one URL [5], perhaps to suggest the contemporaneous nature of the piece, perhaps to jar the reader, perhaps as social critique of an organization for its own use of URLs, perhaps to comment on the place in which the piece is being published [6], or for one of at least forty-six other reasons [7].

    The winner of Friday’s Amateur Cooking Competition prepares Saffron Lobster Ramekins, the recipe for which is now available for public downloading at [8] (p. 526)

  7. Take advantage of the Almighty Return Bar. According to the formatting in DWF’s piece, the first line of the paragraph that follows the blank line created by repeated use of the ARB should not be indented. Although DFW does not use a symbol between sections, you may choose to do so.

    The article has the following structure: Two paragraph, a blank line, seven paragraphs (ending in a full-page paragraph), a blank line, seven paragraphs, a blank line, a quotation from the Main Lobster Promotion Council, a blank line, Five paragraphs, a blank line. Etc.

  8. End in a way that offends Prof. Savarese.

    [T]hese questions lead straight-away into such deep and treacherous waters that it’s probably best to stop the public discussion right here. There are limits to what even interested persons can ask of each other. (p. 541)



Acknowledgements: [Middle son] read and provided feedback on an early draft of this manuscript.

In case you were wondering, I did, indeed, include those ten endnotes in the original assignment, although in a slightly different form [11]. That meant that the assignment, which is usually about a page, ended up being three pages. But I thought it was funny, or at least appropriate for the task at hand. Now I’m wondering whether it would be appropriate to include the assignment in the final version of the piece [12].

Was it fair to pick a DFW piece as my model? In some ways, it did not stretch me as much as another piece might have. After all, I already follow some of DFW’s writerly strategies, particularly an enjoyment of footnotes [14].

Nonetheless, I did work on many things. I spent much more time thinking about parentheticals vs. footnotes than I normally do [15]. I definitely worked more on my language choice and structure than I do in most of my writing (not just my musings and rants) [16]. I also worked hard to follow the more general expectations of a piece of cultural criticism, including conducting some additional background research, attempting to weave together multiple threads of ideas, and even inventing a bit of language. I don’t mention it in the assignment, but I also tried to follow Prof. S’s suggestion that we limit the use of the first person. I couldn’t completely remove myself, but I restructured the essay significantly to remove the explicit SamR as much as possible.

What did I write about? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s musing!

Postscript: Did you know that Microsoft Word does not permit footnoted footnotes? I appreciate my musing mechanisms even more after realizing that fact.

[1] Is David Foster Wallace’s last name Foster Wallace, which is how people seem to refer to him, or Wallace, which is how he is alphabetized in the anthology?

[2] Williford and Martone indicate that the piece was taken from DFW’s book Consider the Lobster, rather than from Gourmet. I do not know if or how the two (or perhaps three) versions of the piece differ. I have also been informed that most people refer to the book as Consider the Lobster and Other Essays or perhaps Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays, which is how the Kindle edition appears on Amazon. (I would not recommend the Kindle edition, as it indicates that Host is not included in this collection because it cannot be formatted as an eBook.) That volume indicates that the essay also appeared in The Best American Essays 2005 (which may, by implication, have a fourth variation of the piece). Because the global pandemic (is there any other kind?) limits access to printed materials, I have not had the opportunity to compare these four versions and must treat the W&M version as authoritative.

[3] This characteristic was previously identified by [Student] and [Student] in their insightful dissection of the genre that is called cultural critique or cultural criticism. I have chosen to retain [S&S]’s language rather than to rephrase it in my own words. I have also attempted to identify other aspects of the DFW piece in my assignment prompts so that I do not borrow too much of their excellent work. [Student] also suggests using sequential numbers for the footnotes, rather than the typographic symbols that DFW (or the book’s designer) employed.

[4] As those who read my previous manuscript for ENG 207 no doubt recall, I employed a form of meta-writing in that piece. Nonetheless, DFW clearly uses the technique, and it is not one I initially planned for this manuscript.

[5] Universal Resource Locator, also URI (Universal Resource Identifier), a code to identify pages and other resources on the World-Wide Web. URLs begin with a protocol (typically http or https) and are followed by a colon and information relevant to that protocol. In the most common protocols, the information consists of two slashes, a host name, an optional path on the host name separated by slashes (not backslashes), and an optional query string. We will leave the description of the query string to another time or place—or at least to another footnote. By convention, for http and https URLs, one may elide the protocol, the colon, and the two initial slashes. For example, rather than, one would write or perhaps only

[6] Wouldn’t you expect the recipe to appear directly in Gourmet?

[7] In a set of video-recorded comments on DFW, a distinguished scholar of Melville has noted that Foster Wallace incorporates at least fifty meanings in many of his terms and metaphors.

[8] This reader was unable to find that recipe at the named site. However, the reader was pleased to note that the site indicates that We are closely monitoring the situation surrounding COVID-19. At this time we plan to hold the 2020 Maine Lobster Festival. We will continue to keep you updated.

[9] Almighty Return Bar—which I would prefer to call the Almighty Return Key—is a phrase coined by [Student]. I do not believe the trademark has yet been applied for or registered.

[10] The ending for this manuscript was planned before Prof. Savarese commented on DFW’s crustaceanly considerations and before I had considered choosing those considerations to challenge myself in construction this creature. Sometimes the prompt guides the manuscript; sometimes the manuscript guides the prompt.

[11] Among other issues, the originals were footnotes rather than endnotes.

[12] Almost certainly not.

[14] Endnotes, in my case.

[15] I normally avoid parentheticals, at least parentheticals of the kind I associate with DFW in the assignment.

[16] Sorry about that.

Version 1.0 of 2020-04-05.