As I have made a decision about what I’m going to focus on in grad school, it means that I’ve had to make a radical shift in my writing, from spending most of my time writing poetry to focusing on creative nonfiction. Interestingly, this doesn’t change what I’m writing. Most of the material for my poetry comes from my life and family stories. It certainly changes how I write, though.
I’m facing several challenges in this shift. One is how I edit. I’m used to having a half-dozen poems, each fifty to a hundred words long, and bouncing back and forth amongst them as I edit. This fits me; I have the attention span of a fruit fly. Working on prose requires more focus and discipline. I’m only working on one or two pieces a day, and spending a lot more time with each.
Another challenge is length. When I edit poetry, I try to whittle down what I write to the essence, to the point that I recently created a haiku completely by accident, after I had cut out over half the original material. Prose is a different beast. You can write short prose, and I gravitate to this. Most of my prose pieces are between 600 and 800 words. There is nothing wrong with this in and of itself. However, the demands of publishing industry mean that I have to be flexible and know how to write in longer formats. Also, I know that some of the grad schools I want to apply to specify in their application directions that a nonfiction portfolio should consist of two pieces totaling 15 to 25 pages. This would total 5,000 to 8,300 words, according to my quick and possibly incorrect calculations. This is a far cry from 1,200 to 1,600 words.
I despaired of this at first. I didn’t think I could do it. Then, I just told myself that, if I have to do it, I can do it. I respond to instructions well; I was a good boy who “did what I was told.” What it really comes down to is, first, selection of material, and second, lots of practice. I’m not going to write a big novel right now, and I don’t need to. I can work up to bigger and bigger pieces.
Yesterday I started a draft that hit 1,000 pages and is probably only one-half to two-thirds done. It’s a good start.