This week’s theme: semi-obscure archives that might prove valuable to your narrative storytelling. On Tuesday, we highlighted Mark Berkey-Gerard‘s posts on multimedia narrative, which he warehouses at his classroom-based website, Campfire Journalism. Today, we call to your attention the archived lectures and readings — available for free, through iTunes — from Bread Loaf, the venerable writers’ conference at Middlebury College. Some of the lectures are audio, others are transcripts. Highlights :
1) In “DIY Immersion as Research,” Ted Conover, NYU journalism professor and bestselling author of narrative nonfiction books that include Coyotes, Newjack, and The Routes of Man, talks about reporting, and the New Journalism, and says:
“My proposition today is that research can be a creative act.”
2) In “Rules to Write By,” Wild author Cheryl Strayed on the “journey of consciousness as a writer” and on the importance of having “a deep respect for the importance of craft. Those technical things on the page that we all have to master if we intend to master the art of writing. How to make a character, or the self, on the page credible; how to have two people talking to each other, and move them in and out of a room, or describe a landscape in evocative terms.” (The photo pictures Strayed, far right, with fellow authors George Saunders and Mary Karr, at the 50th celebration of Syracuse University’s creative writing program.) Highlights:
—If the reader is asking why she is reading this piece of nonfiction, “you as a writer haven’t done the job that is literature’s mission, which is to so profoundly transcend that small story and make it big and universal” and “build a bridge” between author and reader.
—The goal is writing that is revelatory. “Narrative certainly is built on the back of that. … There is, ‘What is the story about?’ and then ‘What does it mean?’” The straight narrative is hiking the Pacific Coast trail solo; the transcendent meaning is bearing the unbearable.
—The invisible last line of everything she writes is “And nothing was ever the same again,” because it helps bring into focus what’s at stake in the story. “What’s at stake in the story” may sound like so much writing-workshop babble, but it is the question that hangs over every solid piece of narrative journalism.
3) In “How to Write in 700 Easy Lessons,” Richard Bausch, a two-time National Magazine Award winner who has been called a “master of the short story,” focuses on fiction. But there are plenty of takeaways for the narrative journalist, including:
—“Put the manuals and the how-to books away.” If you really want to learn how to write, read. Read the great writers and don’t spend a lot of time trying to analyze them. “Digest them. Swallow them all.”
—“Learn to be as faithful to the art and craft as (the great writers) were, and to follow their example. Now when I say follow their example, by the way, I mean follow their example by working, by being a good citizen and … doing the work. I don’t mean copying the way they sound. You imitate the way they sound to learn how to sound like yourself. That’s the way you learn how to sing, it’s the way you learn how to paint, it’s the way you learn how to walk. There is nothing wrong with imitating writing if it’s teaching you to write your own way.” So, “wide reading and hard work.” (Editor’s note: One might start the reading with Bausch himself. Here’s a short story and interview from The Atlantic.)
—A defense of writing programs, at the 8:30 mark. (Editor’s note: Had to throw that in as a shoutout to AWP 2014, unfolding this weekend in Seattle.)
4) And then there’s Bread Loaf’s audio and transcript archive of Robert Frost readings and lectures, with reading recommendations from Frost, a self-described “natural teacher,” himself. (For more on the intersection on narrative journalism and poetry, see “Better writing through poetry + metaphor,” “Ted Genoways on journalism and documentary poetry,” and “Poetry as journalism? You’d be surprised,” from our archive. From the archive of our sister publication, Nieman Reports, check out “Staggering Drunks and Fiscal Cliffs,” in which Bloomberg Businessweek‘s Peter Coy argues that journalists should master metaphor; and “Poetry: The News That Stays News,” by Stephen Burt, an English professor at Harvard.) From Frost’s “On Being Insubordinate,” from July 3, 1957:
I talked down at Smith College once not so long ago on how you can tell when you’re thinking. And that’s got a lot to do with it. How can you tell when you’re thinking? Do you think you’re thinking when you’re just nicking or catching on? And that’s in it too but if you haven’t taken all that as just an example of daring to use, to dare, you know, that’s what it’s about. The best thoughts you’ve ever had from anybody are just a challenge to you to have one too. Come on and have one. Let’s see you have one. Let’s see you wreck something. It may save you. All right!