Having spent the week pondering non-fiction, I've now decided that a lot of what I need to know can be found in William Zinsser's book On Writing Well. The date I carefully wrote on the endpapers of my copy is December, 1982, which must be when this slim volume came into my collection. I wish I'd taken better note of the book's advice then.
But it took the encouragement of what I now think of as my Essay Writing critique group before I attempted a personal essay. Thankfully, I had some great writers guiding me through this genre. Just google fellow member Lee Stokes Hilton on the New York Times website and read any one of her essays. I'm partial to her Gumbo piece, gumbo being near to my heart. Plus I participated in her greens ribboning tutorial during one particularly important gumbo afternoon. Not only is Lee an accomplished writer, she's a terrific cook. We don't call her the Kitchen Goddess for nothing.
So now she and I are applyingfor the Writers in Paradise conference in January and, should we both be accepted, we have to come up with longer-than-our-usual essays to workshop. That's why I've pulled Zinsser off the shelf to reread. "Up to 25 pages" sounds intimidating even if the workshop topic is Life Into Words.
I stopped skimming the book and started absorbing every single thought when I came to Chapter 12: Writing About a Place because no matter what I write- fiction, non-fiction, email, letters and even this blog- PLACE is always there.
"People and places are the twin pillars on which most nonfiction is built," says Zinsser.
For me, that reads characters and setting, family and home.
So now I'll get down to the details. Smells, concrete prose- statistics and names and signs, oddities and tackiness. I think I can do this.
Twenty-five pages still seems like a lot.