For me this is true of fiction writing as well. I call it “composting.” When I moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1985, I was working on a novel that was partly set on Martha’s Vineyard, which at that point I knew only as an occasional visitor. Before long I realized I didn’t know nearly enough to write fiction about the place. In my first years I wrote mostly poetry, and feature stories and reviews for the local paper. All of this sharpened my skills at observation and listening, while reflection was going on deep in the background. It was eight years before all this experience had composted enough for me to write the story that became the backstory for my first novel. Which wasn’t the novel I thought I was writing when I moved to the Vineyard.
We’ve just run across Julija Šukys’ blog “Writing.Life.” in which she adroitly examines the craft of nonfiction writing, including a recent post that delves into what she defines as the “holy trinity of creative nonfiction” – SCENE + RESEARCH + REFLECTION. In the snippet below, she discusses the hardest part for many new writers, digesting the research:
For example, I have a student who has recently returned from a life-changing trip to Iceland, and he’s now starting to write about it. His first level of research is complete, but more work lies ahead. The second level and stage of research might mean his going to the library and reading tons about sagas and Icelandic history until this writer has mastered his subject enough to distill and retell with energy and spontaneity. Once this learning starts to belong to him in some way (as family history does) — that is, once he’s achieved a kind of…
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