“The problem was our parents told us we could be anything and they never told us we couldn’t be everything at once.” — @justdae
Growing up at one point, I wanted to be a singer, then I discovered that I didn’t like singing in front of strangers. Then I wanted to be an actress. I can put on one heck of a puppet show as a kid but one acting class in college taught me that I was better at improv than I was acting and pairing with me for a scene was a death wish (Sorry Ellie). One thing that I’ve been constantly good at though is writing. I started out with poetry. I used to walk around my Pappy’s house selling poems with my crappy sketches for nickels and dimes. Poems turned into songs. Growing up with two DJs, how could the music bug not bite me? Songs turned into plays long enough to be soap operas. I still have a box with my first soap opera and it was good. A few fanfiction stories later, I ventured into full-length novels. My first series was handwritten. I had a test reader as I wrote. Every day or so, I’d come in with a new chapter and before I knew it, “A Single Red Rose,” had a series of three handwritten books and a handful of readers lined up to read it. Unlimited data wasn’t a thing yet so emailing a chapter to a person wasn’t a thing. Fiction has always been my go to, that’s why it made sense to switch my major upon acceptance into an excellent creative writing undergraduate program.
I’ve always been one to make brow raising decisions but practical me knew that creativity isn’t something you could be taught especially if you already taught a high school course on Photoshop (with a week’s notice to whip something up) and had four full-length novels under your belt. I wanted to learn all of writing even the pieces I hated like grant writing and proposals. I figured if I could teach myself CSS and basic HTML this would be fun and by fun I mean four years of “How far is she gonna take this I want to write everything” thing?
Freshman year was anything but fun. It was confusing. My creative writing teacher told me my poetry wasn’t creative enough and my writing professor told me my first assignment was too creative. My creative writing professor was a bit weird. One time she told me my paper lacked depth and recommended me to the tutoring center and two tutors later, no one could tell me what was wrong with my analysis of two “David Sedaris” poems, so I changed the date, resubmitted the same exact essay and my “C” magically became an “A.”
Grant writing, proposal writing, PR writing, blog writing, news writing and even business writing…if you named it, my college had a course for it.
Fiction writing happened a semester before I ended up in nonfiction writing. Before that semester, there was no gray area between fiction and journalism. Sitting in the slightly comfortably lecture chairs in a tiny room with about nine other people my first question was “How do you make non-fiction interesting?”
I’ll never forget the words my blond bob wearing, Harley riding, former journalist turned professor told me. She smiled and told me that I had stories inside of me that people would love to read. “There’s a story inside of everyone,” Sue went on to tell the class.
My first assignment read more like a journal entry with no depth and she was always pushing me to explore depth. “What do your stories mean to you now? How have they helped shape you? That’s what makes them interesting. How would you tell your story if you were writing fiction?”
My love for fiction has always been an escape mechanism. I can’t physically run from a situation so I bury it away in a character I’ve never met under different storylines.
“You’re avoiding something here, elaborate.” I swear sometimes her class felt like therapy. It wasn’t until I had my classmates in awe about a story revolving around my grandfather’s staircase, or the tears that came upon reading about how he passed that I realized I didn’t just have my own stories but I could tell them so well that people questioned their validity.
“Nonfiction makes you vulnerable.” Oh it does! Sue was right. She picked me and three other students to travel to Pitt Behrend and we all got into the car and drove to Erie to present at an English Conference. It wasn’t until I was in front of a room of strangers and we were all in tears by the time I reached the end of “Growing Up Darker,” that I learned how vulnerable yet powerful nonfiction was.
There’s nothing wrong with fiction but sharing stories that you’ve lived through is powerful. It evokes emotions and a certain curiosity.
If I dissected every piece of fiction I ever wrote, I’d probably find a little piece of me in it. But nonfiction is me on the page no hiding, no characters, it’s all true and every single word holds weight of a thousand emotions.