Some of the best discoveries in life are the accidental ones. Cf:
1) My reading chair. It’s being delivered on Wednesday, and I happened upon it completely by accident. We were on the way home from the furniture stores we had intended to go to, and we saw this place and pulled in. Luckily, because it’s the most comfortable thing I’ve ever sat on.
2) Peanut butter sticks lunch wraps closed beautifully. Practical and delicious.
3) Many unheard-of support bands over the years. Come for the headline, decide to rock up early for a drink and the support and discover someone brilliant. Oops…yay!
4) Creative Non-Fiction. Before studying at RMIT, I didn’t know this existed. I’d written things in this style before, but I didn’t know it. The brilliant David Carlin got me really excited about it, and helped me start writing it in a focused, intentional way. And ever since, I have kept leaning further and further toward it.
In one of Sunday’s sessions at the Melbourne Writers Festival, I was lucky enough to see David Grann. I didn’t know I was lucky enough to start with – I saw a New Yorker session while I had spare time, and managed to squeeze in. I’d never heard of David Grann, not being a regular New Yorker reader.
David Grann’s one of those super-lucky people called “Staff Writers” who are funded by magazines with money (rare enough in itself) to write long form non-fiction. They’re paid to really research things, by travelling and interviewing and really immersing themselves in what they’re writing. I’m endlessly jealous of these people – I want to be them. David Foster Wallace was paid to go on cruise ships and to lobster festivals. I want that job. Then again, a MWF pass is a kind of similar idea, is it not? It’s a good start, at least.
The MWF panel looked at the idea that obsessions are really good for literary non-fiction (excuse the shifting genre name, it’s got so many!), and that magazines like The New Yorker are willing to indulge the obsessions of writers who prove themselves. David Grann proved himself, and was allowed to go bashing about in the Amazon to research some obscure explorer that nobody had ever heard of. Again – I want that job.
What I liked most about Grann’s session was that he mentioned that he hadn’t always meant to be a non-fiction writer. In face, he tried really hard for a while to be a fiction writer, but when he came across creative non-fiction (employing literary techniques to tell true stories), it just made so much sense. “It solved many of my problems as a fiction writer,” he said. By bringing together fiction techniques and true material, Grann found his niche.
I’ve been feeling this way. For such a long time I fought the idea of primarily writing non-fiction. The creativity of being a fiction writer seemed to be absent from journalism and the like – but it doesn’t have to be. The accidental discovery of creative non-fiction has been one of the happiest accidental discoveries of my life. And it’s encouraging to know that a well-respected New Yorker staff writer like David Grann went through the same thing to get to where he now is.
04/09/2012 at 3:24 am
I feel the same about creative non-fiction. My undergrad was in communications, which meant I did an awful lot of journalism. That sensibility crept into my writing, & until I found creative non-fiction, I didn’t know quite what to do with it. Now. To find a job like Grann’s…