edited by Root & Steinberg
After a somewhat difficult month of writing, this book came along at exactly the right time. I was feeling exceptionally stuck and became worried that I had tapped out everything I had to write about. “The Fourth Genre” edited by Root and Steinberg is split up into two different sections. The first is an anthology of exceptional pieces of creative non-fiction. I have always drawn inspiration from other artists and their creations so having many different styles and forms all in one place was extremely helpful. It was nice to read one piece that might be considered “standard” in terms of form and then flip to the next page to an essay that is written in the form of a list of albums. It gave me a lot to think about in terms of what I’ve already done with my own work and where I can go. It forced me to think about form in a way that I hadn’t before. I now have a little better understanding that sometimes a specific form won’t work for what I want to say and I need to step out of my comfort zone to experiment with different ways to write.
I have so many new ideas of ways that I can write essays, whether it is in list form, or it’s a photo essay, or a compilation of diary entries. Before this I thought I had to have my subject matter before I made a decision about the form but now I’m realizing that it’s more cyclical than that. It can also occur; form, subject matter, make sure the form actually works (or alter it so that it does). Sometimes form can be the catalyst for subject matter and that was an exciting realization to have.
The second part of the text are more traditional craft essays, however most are creative in their own right. Many of them exemplify the options when writing creative non-fiction while simultaneously teaching the reader lessons in craft. These helped me out in an entirely different way. I was given very concrete things to do in my own writing. Allow yourself to be ok with the incongruities of memory. Stories depend upon their shape and it’s the writer’s job to determine which bits need to be emphasized or discarded in order to make that particular shape. “Find the place where the story could draw a deep breath and take its own measure.” (262) Let everything, anything happen in a first draft; don’t hold back. All of these reminders (or new lessons) were extremely timely and allowed me to push forward past that bit of writer’s block or frustration and allow more to happen with my writing. I wish I would have read this text in the first month of my residency, but then again, maybe I’d still feel like I had writer’s block if I had.