Format, part 2: The overthinking
In last night’s post I promised to continue my train of thought. Yesterday was kind of a thoughtful day, as in I wrote for like an hour in my journal, vented some anger, bitterness, resentment, confusion and a little bit about goal-setting. This is why I keep a journal – a password-protected, naming-names corner of my personal galaxy. Often after a vent in which I show myself how ugly I can truly be I end up with some clarity of thought and recognition of goals and directions I’m inclined toward.
I have been haunted lately by this issue of format/category/genre/whatever. I came across this essay this morning by Janet Steen which examines the essay form and kinda reflects my personal confusion about what it means to write an essay. This will be a topic of frustration for me as long as I’m trying to force myself to write a ____ or write in a ____ format.
This morning I resolved to just start writing. I opened my “Goucher MFA Semester 2” document, went to the Mormon section and started writing about stuff. I’m not trying to find a way to insert my interviews with missionaries. I’m just writing stuff about the LDS church, Mormon doctrine, Mitt Romney, blah blah blah.
I have stuff to say about religion in America, personal experiences of religion, how they relate to American society, and I’m just gonna write about those topics, dammit. When I try to tell myself I’m writing a “reported” piece (again, someone please define how that is both not traditional journalism but also somehow a use of reporting and research that’s different from essay or memoir or those other things creative nonfiction people talk about) I either revert into magazine writing or just sit there paralyzed thinking I need to go do some immersion journalism in order to do the kind of literary journalism that’s demanded of the MFA thesis. When I tell myself I’m writing an “essay” I feel a lot more settled about where “I” fit into the narrative and how much reporting the piece really needs.
If I could spend all day for weeks or months with Mormon missionaries I could tell a “reported” story about them. If I find stuff out about missionaries and do some research and then thinking about it, voila! Informative and enjoyable writing about an interesting topic. Write it well. Boom, you have an MFA thesis. If not, I don’t know what.