Is your writing life starting to feel like moving house? Are you lugging around dusty narrative elements, trying to find a place to put them? A personal writing project might be just the thing you need to let go of that baggage and just write.
I recently stumbled across Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick and Sophie Calle’s The Address Book — and immediately realized I’d come across the cure for those times when your writing just seems to be dragging you down. In both books, the authors launch into fascinating writing projects based on every events. They reach narrative through interaction, investigation, and play with their surroundings—no heaving or stacking involved.
If you are like me, and prefer your art with a side of narrative, these books will intrigue you. They may also spur you to become engaged with the world, not only in search of prompts or inspiration, but for a project to give your writing some real-life momentum.
Kraus’s world changes when Dick, an art critic acquaintance, flirts with her over dinner with her husband. After this dinner and Dick’s absence the next morning, Chris transforms Dick into a receptacle for hundreds of letters, love, and her life for a time. She brilliantly chronicles her life as it revolves around her love for Dick, but also steps outside of herself to speak openly about theory, art, and feminism.
It sounds heady, but her project provides her with the most engaging type of story: an active, unapologetic one of real human psychology. And this, like other literary memoirs that bravely gain your trust, is all written in genuine, readable prose (you can read it without an English degree, I promise).
Sophie Calle, on the other hand, found a man’s small address book in the streets of Paris and preceded to contact everyone in it. She visits homes, has coffee, and speaks over the phone with the man’s friends and acquaintances. She wanders around the area in which he lives and sees his father from afar. She doesn’t write a lot about her motives, but fills pages with the words of the people she meets.
These personal stories not only narrate a project, but are, in themselves, the project itself. While Dick and the address book fell into these artists’ lives, you’re allowed to look for your own inspiration.
So here’s my exercise for you this week.
This week, instead of viewing the people you pass on the way to work or the taco truck by your house as inspiration for characters or setting in a narrative, look for a way to engage yourself. Make yourself part of the story. Tell the story as you’re actually experiencing it.
Some ideas that could emerge from that taco truck:
- Describe it every day for two weeks.
- Invest it with your own life as well.
- Take photos of it with your iPhone.
- Your language and form can go wherever it wants.
- Make a little ‘zine when you feel finished. Maybe you want to give it to the cook or a drunk couple eating tacos at midnight?
Sounds kind of personal-essay-writing-workshoppy, but if you take these women’s cue, unexpected brilliance may result. There is an urgency to projects like theirs that will wake up your writing process, and probably your readers.
Let your non-fiction become investigative art, and let us know what you find!
Struggling to find ideas for your work? Check out our free e-book, “A Year of Inspiration: 52 Writing Prompts from the Renegade Word.”