(34 of 40) What Makes It Interesting?

Yesterday in my Creative Nonfiction class, several students admitted that they have not yet chosen a topic for what we call "the longer paper." This is a project I ask students to work on all quarter long, from day one! They do a 30-chapters exercise, we do character sketches in class, and we do some other brainstorming stuff (9 trips, 9 events). We look at the portkey essay (which I blogged about a couple weeks ago). And we look at the collage essay. I give them lots of examples to read on their own.

Apparently, this quarter, it's not working, at least for some of my students. "Nothing has ever happened to me," one of them complained. "Nothing interesting," another said.

They seemed pretty discouraged, and I picked up on it. Oh, life is so dull! I lost sleep over it.

But this morning, it all turned around for me. 1) It's mid-quarter, and we always have a little slump of enthusiasm at mid-quarter. 2) Of course their lives are exciting! Of course things have happened to them! 3) And it's not even a failure of imagination that they (and I) weren't seeing it yesterday, it's a failure of faith.

Here's my guarantee (and, no, I never was a cheerleader). If you will choose any topic -- your great aunt Mildred and her varicose veins, your best friend Joe who dropped out of school and works as a clerk at Build-a-Bear, the engine rebuild that you did with your dad -- and then pay attention to it, scratching your head, scratching your pen across the paper, tugging and pushing it just a little bit every day for a few days in a row, it will become interesting.

You still can't think of anything? Here's a little assignment: Make some notes about phone calls you've had that changed your life. Big change or little change, it doesn't matter. List them. Now circle three that jump out at you. Now set your timer (on your stove or on your phone) and write for five minutes about one...now for the other two. Include attention to these details: What phone did you receive this news on? What was the ring like? Where were you when you answered the phone? Who was on the other end? What did they say? What did you say? What happened then? What changed? Put these together under one title and see what happens. You can weave -- or braid -- them together or you can subtitle them 1, 2, 3. I'd love to see the results. (Wouldn't you?)