fresh ideas from unexpected sources

I was workshopped for the first time this semester last night in my nonfiction class. I had turned in ch. 6 of the book, which, as previously mentioned, I kind of threw together at the last minute. I didn’t particularly think it was a good chapter because I essentially linked 5 scenes without offering transitions or providing any clues to the reader why the 5 sections were together in one chapter. Which my professor totally called me on.

But one cool thing about a new semester, even if you are taking a class you’ve taken before with a professor you’ve taken before (3X!) is that the workshop participants always change. Which means that I got (in this case) 11 new perspectives on my writing, as well as two sets of feedback from people who’ve seen the earlier bits. People who are looking at something for the first time always have good, fresh ideas to offer. Sometimes you get these fresh ideas from unexpected sources.

For example, last week in our first class, I was both intrigued and amused by a woman sitting next to me who wore a cashmere sweater that looked like it had gone through a shredder of some kind. Really. All that remained of one sleeve were a few tattered sweater dreads. Anyway, when she spoke, my immediate thoughts included: “Wow, this girl is out there!” and “Whoa” and “This is going to be an interesting semester.” Our professor had asked us to go around and say the usual first class things about why we chose to take the class (which I will remind you here is a NONFICTION workshop). This woman said, with quite a bit of seriousness, that she was a fiction writer really, but she was impressed that James Frey had made up parts of his memoir and that she wanted to do that too, so she took a nonfiction course. I think her words, in regards to James Frey and his bogus book, were: “That’s awesome.”

I have been reciting this anecdote, and maybe embellishing a bit, to friends and coworkers all week, with responses ranging from, “Oh my god!” to “Can any crazy person get into the MFA program?” to “Ha, ha!”

But I take it all, all back. Way back. This chick who seems to have the fuzziest ethical line toward nonfiction of anyone I’ve come across in my program last night also offered the best, most intelligent solution to a MAJOR editorial/ethical problem that has been plaguing my book since I started working on it last spring. Even my professors haven’t been able to offer ideas anywhere close to this one. This girl is clearly not a linear thinker, which is exactly what my book needs in the way of advice, because I tend to look at it all way too linearly. I have been very discouraged about said editorial/ethical problem, often to the point where I have been unable to write because of it, and now, wow. Thank you weird shredded sweater girl who thinks making up a memoir is awesome. When you write yours, I will personally write a letter in support of your fabrications to Oprah.

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