Author Topic: What am I doing here?  (Read 653 times)

Offline plnelson

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What am I doing here?
« on: April 23, 2021, 12:32:43 AM »
Good question; I'm glad someone asked that.

I've done a little writing - technical articles, poems, lots and lots of journaling.  I've taken writing or poetry workshops with Cecilia Woloch, Michael Curtis, Major Jackson, others, and of course I've done lots of reading.

I'm 68 and I've had a weird, eclectic nonlinear life.   I've done art, science and engineering the whole time, but more science and engineering in the early days and more art these days.  I paint, take photos, make videos and write the music for them.  My paintings and photos have sold in galleries; I travel to exotic places to do wildlife photography and I work with models in my studio.  My website is pnArt.com and I'm pnArtV on Vimeo. I was happily married for 27 years until death did us part.  I've had many surgeries; I've had many cats; I've had many lovers; right now I'm having a passionate affair with a 67-yo widow.  Things and people vanish and reappear in my life, time stops, speeds up and goes into reverse. Memories can't be trusted. Incidents and coincidence happen regularly.  The Wall Street Journal gave me my 15 minutes of fame when they did an article on me - "The Longevity Puzzle" in October 2014.

So I want to write about my life in a long memoir or autobiography.   But I don't want to write a conventional, linear one.  I want it to be discursive and digressive and nonlinear.   I want it to bifurcate and trifurcate and have subjects appear and disappear at random just like they do in my real life.  Sometimes strange things happen but their meaning is not revealed for months or years.   I don't always know what happened so I can't always be a reliable narrator.  I want the reader to understand what this life feels like from the inside.I want to heavily reference my journal entries, my photos, poems, sketches, paintings and newspaper articles.    But I don't want to make a scrapbook.

What I'm looking for is suggestions for good, published successful examples of non-fiction written in a highly nonlinear, discursive, idiosyncratic, or experimental way.    I want to study these. I want to see examples of how to maintain a strong authorial presence in the face of chaos to lend some degree of coherency to the disorder.

Thank you in advance!!

Offline jt72

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Re: What am I doing here?
« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2021, 11:15:52 PM »

What I'm looking for is suggestions for good, published successful examples of non-fiction written in a highly nonlinear, discursive, idiosyncratic, or experimental way.    I want to study these. I want to see examples of how to maintain a strong authorial presence in the face of chaos to lend some degree of coherency to the disorder.

Thank you in advance!!

I hope this helps. I checked the site out before I posted the link. Welcome to MWC.    jt

The 50 Best Nonfiction Books of the Past 25 Years
Slate’s books team selects the definitive works of reporting, memoir, and argument of the past quarter-century.BY DAN KOIS AND LAURA MILLER
NOV 18, 2019
https://slate.com/human-interest/2019/11/50-best-nonfiction-books.html
Interesting the way the internet really works.   jt jt

Offline plnelson

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Re: What am I doing here?
« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2021, 12:47:42 AM »
Thanks, but I don't see how this relates to my question.   Are there particular books in that list that you would suggest as examples of the style of writing I described?   I'm familiar with many of those books, and very few of them seem to fall outside the conventional structure that I'm trying to avoid.

Offline jt72

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Re: What am I doing here?
« Reply #3 on: April 24, 2021, 11:27:31 AM »
Thanks, but I don't see how this relates to my question.   Are there particular books in that list that you would suggest as examples of the style of writing I described?   I'm familiar with many of those books, and very few of them seem to fall outside the conventional structure that I'm trying to avoid.

Sorry.Duh on me... but I have always believed that life stories worth sharing sort of naturally 'fall outside the constructional structure." Good luck with your writing.  jt

Interesting the way the internet really works.   jt jt

Offline plnelson

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Re: What am I doing here?
« Reply #4 on: April 26, 2021, 12:20:19 PM »
but I have always believed that life stories worth sharing sort of naturally 'fall outside the constructional structure." Good luck with your writing.

No doubt some of them do.  But which ones? But there's 50 books on that list.   So I'm looking for some specific examples of books I ought to study that are discursive, nonlinear, and generally cluttered and fragmented the way a real person's life is, but where the author has a strong enough voice or presence to somehow hold it together.

There are some non-fiction works, e.g., Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, or Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach, that manage to be highly discursive without the reader losing confidence that the author will ever bring it back around.   There are plenty of successful fictional works - 100 Years of Solitude (Marquez), Gravity's Rainbow (Pynchon), First Person Singular (Murakami)  that possess many of the qualities I want in my non-fiction project

Years ago my late wife and I were visiting the Isle of Skye.  We had just returned to the mainland on the MV Glenachulish - the last manually operated turntable ferry on earth - and we were feeling peckish so we stopped for lunch at a tiny stone shop with a grass roof and a goat grazing on it.   Inside, while waiting for our sandwiches, I saw a little shelf of used books for sale and among them was an original edition of Italy, a Poem, by Samuel Rogers - a lesser known Romantic poet.  It was just Ł7!    When I got back to the 'States I had it appraised - it's worth thousands of dollars.   Italy, a Poem is a book-length travelogue in the form of a poem!   Many early great works of literature - the Illiad and the Odyssey, or Beowulf, were long poems.    By today's standards, those would all be examples of non-standard or unconventional ways of telling a story.  But I write lots of poetry and I'm also an artist and I've kept a journal for decades, so I'd like to incorporate those elements into my work.

So where is a good place to ask this question where I might get lots of opinions?    Does this fall into the category of "Creative non-Fiction"?  Where's an active discussion forum for that?  How do we get more voices in this conversation? Will this pandemic ever be over?  Thanks in advance for further clarification

« Last Edit: April 26, 2021, 12:46:14 PM by plnelson »

Offline opinionprojects

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Re: What am I doing here?
« Reply #5 on: April 27, 2021, 03:50:34 PM »
To the question of writing a memoir.  I used a writing to coach to complete my novel, and among her other clients, many were involved in writing memoirs. I am happy to provide her information, it's the least I can do after her contributions to my work.  Nelsie Spencer is the coach's name Nelsiewrites.com is the website i think, and her email is nelsiewrites@hotmail.com.  She is the real deal, and will help you on your way. Have fun.

Offline plnelson

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Re: What am I doing here?
« Reply #6 on: April 27, 2021, 04:49:35 PM »
To the question of writing a memoir.  I used a writing to coach to complete my novel, and among her other clients, many were involved in writing memoirs.

Thanks; I've worked with writing coaches before and they can be very useful in certain phases of a writing project,  but at this stage I want to stay focused on my specific question:    What I'm seeking is suggestions of autobiographies and memoirs written in a nonlinear, discursive, or fragmentary style, and preferably also incorporating non-prose elements such as poetry, journal entries, drawings, paintings and photos. Maybe such a thing doesn't exist but I'd rather hear that from people with specialized knowledge and interest in these genres.

And that's the hard thing to find.   Considering all the people out there who seem interested in writing memoirs - as you note, it's a huge chunk of writing coaches' clientele -  and the burgeoning interest in "creative non-fiction", it's surprisingly hard to find online writing forums where the traffic in those genres is high enough to get a critical mass of discussion.   

I've joined several writing forums but most of the other people in them seem interested in fiction writing, with the bulk of that focused on genre writing -  science-fiction and fantasy, detective and thriller, romance, etc.     Where do the non-fiction writers hang out?

Offline opinionprojects

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Re: What am I doing here?
« Reply #7 on: April 28, 2021, 10:37:12 AM »
Excellent point, writing coaches are good at times, but they won't write your book for you, or make you think straight.  Great. You sound more like you want to write like Ferdinand Celine, Henry Miller, even Durrell, Hunter Thompson, writers like that.  Have at it.

Offline plnelson

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Re: What am I doing here?
« Reply #8 on: April 28, 2021, 06:47:19 PM »
Indeed.  I'm not that familiar with Celine, who I think of as a novelist.  But Henry Miller and Hunter S Thompson are certainly on my radar for a project like this because they have many of the attributes I want to use.  Miller's work has a large autobiographical component and Thompson's work is ostensibly journalism, albeit hallucinatory and subjective.    Which puts both of them in a fascinating liminal space that defies easy categorization.

Fun fact: I wasn't familiar with Durrell's prose writing because I'm less interested in novels.  But when I wrote the above sentence the spell-checker flagged the word "liminal", but offered no spelling suggestions.  So, thinking I spelled it wrong, I typed it into Google and the first hit I got was an essay about Durrell!  ("Durrell Re-Read: Crossing the Liminal in Lawrence Durrell's Major Novels")    Weird but that happens to me all the time.

But my main question remains: where do all the nonfiction writers hang out?
« Last Edit: April 28, 2021, 06:52:57 PM by plnelson »

Offline plnelson

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Re: What am I doing here?
« Reply #9 on: September 29, 2021, 09:07:21 PM »
But my main question remains: where do all the nonfiction writers hang out?

So I still don't have an answer to this.  The web seems to be awash in writers' groups and online forums for would-be writers of mysteries, science-fiction, romance, fan-fiction, and other fiction.   But where can I find an active  community of non-fiction writers?

Offline Nether

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Re: What am I doing here?
« Reply #10 on: October 06, 2021, 09:33:39 AM »
Honestly, I'm not sure any writers forum is amazing when it comes to a particular subject. Most tend to be pretty hodgepodge.

However, I think you're going about it the wrong way. You're looking for non-fiction writers when what you really need is non-fiction readers. Reading communities are likely a lot easier to find, are probably a lot bigger, and as a result probably have a wider collective knowledge. At the end of the day, you're looking more for books in the style that you want to write rather than advice or input from non-fiction writers themselves.

The thing about writers communities is that you'll get a lot of people starting out (many of whom don't stick around, either because they get discouraged or because real-life gets in the way), and then most of the guys who get successful don't have the time to hang around the community. (Or they found like-minded people to create smaller, writers groups with.)

Honestly, I'd say just go ask on Good Reads or something.

Offline plnelson

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Re: What am I doing here?
« Reply #11 on: October 11, 2021, 10:11:19 PM »
Honestly, I'm not sure any writers forum is amazing when it comes to a particular subject. Most tend to be pretty hodgepodge.

I'm trying to find a writers forum that's better than "Most".     Are you suggesting that this writers' forum is pretty average?  I'm new here so I don't personally know.

My GF is in a memoir-writers group strictly for women, and I must say that many of them they are very serious, knowledgeable writers working on interesting projects.  They also have an impressive group of speakers who come to talk with them such as Piper Kerman and Erica Jong.     One member is writing a memoir in the form of a poem, (speaking of "non-traditional memoirs"!)    The idea of a poem as a memoir has roots -  I have an original copy of Samuel Rogers' "Italy, a Poem" from 1830 which is a book-length travel memoir.   I bought it for a pittance in Scotland and when I found out how much my copy was worth I now keep it in a safe at my bank!     But that's where I got the idea a non-traditional memoir.    Anyway, my GF's experience proves that serious, knowledgable writers groups exist and I just have to find one.

At the end of the day, you're looking more for books in the style that you want to write rather than advice or input from non-fiction writers themselves.
...
Honestly, I'd say just go ask on Good Reads or something


Don't I KNOW it!   (or is it, Don't I KNOW it?  - C'mon writers, help me out on this one!)  But where do I find one?   I tried Good Reads but I found their organisation and taxonomy utterly Byzantine!   Have you been there?   They have a zillion, or perhaps by now 1.2 or 1.3 zillion, sub-groups and categories and you need the skills of Magellan to navigate it.  And since I'm looking for something pretty broad, a website that grinds their discussion-forums so exceedingly fine it makes it hard to ask such a general question.   But I totally agree that a group of serious readers, especially with broad, eclectic, and literary interests would probably be more useful to my enterprise than a group of writers. 

« Last Edit: October 11, 2021, 10:15:48 PM by plnelson »

Offline Nether

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Re: What am I doing here?
« Reply #12 on: October 12, 2021, 01:52:32 AM »
I'm trying to find a writers forum that's better than "Most".     Are you suggesting that this writers' forum is pretty average?  I'm new here so I don't personally know.

No, this forum is pretty much trash. The moderators abandoned it, and it's mostly populated by spambots. I only check it occasionally in case something (or someone) of interest pops up, but most of the time it's just pieces of crap like seomind spamming backlinks.

It's not even a particularly well-designed site. However, it shows up near the top of some writing community recommendations so newer writers -- particularly those who don't want to spend a lot of time actually looking into things -- show up here. It's one of many places I keep an eye on for potential critique partners, although I imagine most people would take one look at all the spam and keep walking.

Anyway, my GF's experience proves that serious, knowledgable writers groups exist and I just have to find one.

Sounds like you already have a roadmap then. Figure out how her group finds its members or advertises, then look in those same kinds of places for other groups.

However, a group like that is likely something that just evolved over time, and might be the kind of thing you'd have to build yourself. It's also certainly a far cry from a forum (and even most of the people who use forums have their own offline groups, some of which they founded).

Don't I KNOW it!   (or is it, Don't I KNOW it?  - C'mon writers, help me out on this one!)

Again, instead of asking writers for something bizarrely specific, you'd be better off going to *READER* communities to press them for information. You very specifically want titles rather than anything do with craft itself, that's a reading issue rather than simply being a writing issue.

Checking out memoir fandoms is more likely to find somebody to point you in the right direction (in degrees of specificity) than hitting up random general-interest writing communities.

You've been looking for these answers for close to 6 months now. If you were just hitting up memoir fan communities and asking them to direct you to more specific memoir fan communities, you probably would have found it months ago. Even a memoir-writers group won't necessarily be able to provide nearly as much information as a larger group of memoir readers. And frankly it's just baffling that this was your first choice, because it's so completely counter-intuitive.

And have you started your memoir during all this time? Or have you just been sitting there waiting to find the perfect comp titles before you started writing? You're looking for potentially very-niche books that might not exist at all. You would have been better served looking at those fictional examples as a framework if they had indeed done roughly the thing you aspire to write.

I tried Good Reads but I found their organisation and taxonomy utterly Byzantine!   Have you been there?   They have a zillion, or perhaps by now 1.2 or 1.3 zillion, sub-groups and categories and you need the skills of Magellan to navigate it.  And since I'm looking for something pretty broad, a website that grinds their discussion-forums so exceedingly fine it makes it hard to ask such a general question.

Then you should probably try checking out guides for navigating Good Reads because the level of specificity you just described is *exactly* the kind of specific things you're requesting. And you're not looking for something overly broad, you're looking for pretty specific criteria.

Offline plnelson

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Re: What am I doing here?
« Reply #13 on: October 12, 2021, 10:18:41 AM »
Even a memoir-writers group won't necessarily be able to provide nearly as much information as a larger group of memoir readers. And frankly it's just baffling that this was your first choice, because it's so completely counter-intuitive.

In my naiveté it never occurred to me that there would be a distinction.  It struck me as inconceivable that someone would embark on the voyage of writing in a particular genre without being deeply familiar with that genre - a bit like deciding one day they would host a dinner party featuring a rijsttafel without being familiar with Dutch-Indonesian cuisine.  Thanks for setting us straight on this.

because the level of specificity you just described is *exactly* the kind of specific things you're requesting. 
 
Au contraire.  Look at the examples I've cited already:  Douglas Hofstadter, (Le Ton beau de Marot, especially) Annie Dillard, Hunter S Thompson, Samuel Rogers.    On GoodReads those would all be in different categories, because GoodReads is so finely divided.   And only one of them would even be considered a "memoir", even though they're all memoirs viewed broadly.     So you're probably right that I need readers, but they should have eclectic tastes covering centuries of literature.     One thing I've noticed about many modern readers is that they don't recreationally read anything before around 1980.

You're looking for potentially very-niche books that might not exist at all.

I've cited several extant examples already but I want more.

And have you started your memoir during all this time? Or have you just been sitting there waiting to find the perfect comp titles before you started writing?

Are you always this cynical and disagreeable?   I've written several outlines -  one based on an essentially prose-based version; one based on my poetry, and one based on my artwork and photography.    But ideally it will be an integration of all three.    Currently I'm trying to develop a suitable taxonomy for the raw material.   It's a big project that will likely be more like an autobiography than a memoir.