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March 25, 2018

Not A Writer: The Craft of Nonfiction

This year has been a year of realizations. I’d say come-to-Jesus moments, but I’m Jewish.

I always hesitated to call myself a writer before this year, which is odd, because all I do is write. All I have ever done is write. From a very young age, I wrote story after story, created whole worlds in my head, wrote fanfiction, and wrote three 50,000-word novels. I wrote a play. I knew, logically, that I was good at writing.

But I would never dare to call myself a writer.

My late grandfather once said, venomously, that all artists were poor. My Nana, his ex-wife, is an artist; she makes beautiful mosaics and paintings. But he is correct: she is poor.

Writing is art. The two have always been equivalents in my head. So it was never a question that I could write professionally, lest I be poor. And I like shopping and take-out too much to be poor.

Then two things happened at once: my play became a finalist out of 18 submissions in a highly competitive writers’ festival, and I took Christine Cozzens’ Creative Nonfiction class.

In a red journal, I take to prompts like a bird to flight. My fingers cramp as I try to scribble every last word my mind springs forth, like an unending well of creativity. I have so many stories to be told, and the rapidly-filling pages of my journal are evidence. I’m a history major, after all. I love evidence.

This is not to say there is no difficulty in Creative Nonfiction. I quite dislike the craft. I’d much rather create characters and draw from my experiences for a dynamic, self-invented plot, rather than dig through my feelings and draw them out on paper. My memory is weak, and in what memories I do have, everything seems exaggerated. I’m a storyteller, a liar, an actress, an inventor: everything I have ever retold is inflated in some shape or form. That leads to a very inaccurate memory.

Still, I am writing, and writing well, and I could not be happier. For once, I felt my confidence in my work was not unearned or exaggerated. Just because I am not a creative writing major, doesn’t mean I can’t call a spade a spade: I am a writer.

I wear the badge proudly, however many sideways glances of annoyance I receive from my peers. I hesitate to take writing classes on campus; students don’t like me, or my ego. They think I’m brash and obnoxious. I can take criticism– when I know, it’s coming from neutrality and not dislike. I feel like an imposter around them. To me, the writers at Agnes Scott College have always seemed egotistical and clique-ish. They have wanted to be writers since the day they stepped foot on this campus. It appeared that, unless I were a major or a Center for Writing and Speaking tutor, I couldn’t dare call myself a writer. I now realize how foolish those thoughts seem.

Now I want to take as many writing classes as I can before I graduate. Before I become an author or a playwright or a dramaturg or whatever I may become, I am first, and foremost, a writer.