In my creative non-fiction class, our final assignment is to completely revise one of the essays we wrote this quarter. To maximize the assignment, our professor suggested that we choose the essay we feel was the worst, that we were most unhappy with. This makes sense in that it is easier to completely revise a bad essay than one we think is already good. But that bad essay has already been turned in, which means we have already spent time with it and it is still that bad. Worse, at least in my case, we hate that essay because we can’t figure out how to make it better, which is why it was bad when we turned it in. So this assignment was to revisit writing that we are unhappy and frustrated with to make it better.
One of my problems was that I felt trapped in the ideas I had already put on the page. I had already explored the subject so now it felt tired, used, and boring. I couldn’t think of anything fresh to add. The essay was what it was, and nothing I could do would improve it.
My professor suggested changing the formal structure. One of the freedoms of creative non-fiction is that you can put your essay in any form you want. For example, I decided to change my essay (which was vaguely about my relationship to books) to being a list of books in alphabetical order that I’ve read and how they have interacted with my life (it is “cleverly” called Bibliography). Changing to this form allowed me to think about the problem in a different way, and I actually think the essay turned out pretty well.
Another trick I used to jump start the new draft was to change the font and text size in the document. This seems like it should have no effect, but it is actually helpful in putting my mind on a different tract. It is a method I’ve used before when stymied by writer’s block. Once, when working on a longer writing project, I just could not get started on the new section, so I switched to a new Word document, changed it to single spacing, and zoomed out. Suddenly I knew exactly what the scene needed, and the words wrote themselves. Sometimes all I need is for the writing to look different for me to make it different.
So even if you are working on the same laptop in the same room every day, it is possible to get a change of scenery to help the creative juices flow. Let’s just hope in this case that my essay really was the better for it.