“When you write it freezes your stories,” poet and essayist Julian told the audience June 1 at a Writing Our World panel discussion at the University of Victoria. However, he writes “to begin a conversation.”
Three panelists, led by moderator Lynne van Luven, participated in a flowing discussion of the role of truth, fact, baring the soul, emotion and connection in writing creative nonfiction.
Julian joined Andrea Paquette, blogger, and Erin Shepherd, novelist and essayist, in the “Life Writing” event Saturday. All three had essays published in a series of related anthologies published by Touchwood Press of Victoria and edited by Van Luven.
Julian, who published his first essay in Nobody’s Father (Touchwood), said that in writing about his life without fatherhood, he “buried the lead. I wanted to trick people into identifying with me as a transgender person.” The biggest challenge in writing is to “stick with your truth,” said the artist. The Internet has opened up new genres of creative nonfiction, including personal essays and blogs, said Julian. Van Luven, who is a dean at UVic, added that the writer has more room in a personal essay and creative nonfiction than in a formal academic essay.
Van Luven asked all three writers–all creators of first-person essays–why a writer creates a personal narrative.
Shepherd said he wrote his piece about the absence of fatherhood in his life because he found other people out there in the world had a desire to know about the issue. Noting that interest made him “think it was worth writing about.” Creative nonfiction is closer to the emotional side of writing, and the most important task of the writer is “to be approachable, to keep up the connection” with the reader, he added. The facts of the weather of the day or other specific details recede in importance with that focus on connection. Shepherd said “it was affirming to hear other stories” in the anthology, and indicated that the book’s “many voices” made it enriching for him to read.
Paquette writes the blog BipolarBabe, about her experience living with bipolar disorder. “I write about my psychosis,” she said, adding that sharing her personal story was hard at first but is easier now. “I wanted to help people not suffer like me and it helps me with my own healing,” she said. Paquette also works actively in the community to inform and educate about bipolar, including addressing the stigma around it. “There is power in the personal essay and digging to your personal truth,” she said.
Van Luven addressed her own question. She had contributed an essay about her own childlessness to Nobody’s Mother, which preceded Nobody’s Father. It was a choice made 30 years earlier, she said, hence she thought the piece would be easy when she plunged into it. However, she ended up crying for hours, and did not finish the piece for months. “It was purgative but hard,” then it was done, said van Luven. So creative nonfiction, the personal narrative at least, emerges from a writer’s felt need to work through something and achieve insight, healing, or release.The written piece may remain frozen, but the writing of it allows the author to move on.