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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » A non-fiction project: call for advice

   
Author Topic: A non-fiction project: call for advice
Bent Tree
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*edited to shed clarity to intention*

So I have been contemplating this project for a while now. It basically goes like this. I will live for six months without working for money, intentionally earning money, or spending money in any way. Providing a vibrant living without money is the objective. I will write, and blog about the entire experience. So this probably sounds a bit nebulous, especially for those who don't know me. So I will give you a little information about myself which may help you see where I may be headed with this.

33 yrs old
Father of three (12b 10b 8g)
recently divorced
survivor of devastating illness and surgeries
Formaly trained as a chef/nutritionalist
Organic farming advocate
sustainability advocate
long distance hiker
Native American influence
Wild food/medicinal forager

I open the floor to comments. I am mainly concerned with the parameters, reader expectation, establishing goals and topic for the writing of the experience. Aslo very interested in potential publisher or agent suggestions on this endeavor.

Definitive Objectives of this experiment:
-Provide a healthy, vibrant life for myself, family, and children without money
-Maintain dignity in doing so without compromising morals and values. (No Panhandling, begging, etc...)
-Gain insight into our preconceived notions of money and earning

Look forward to your input

[ November 16, 2011, 02:41 PM: Message edited by: Bent Tree ]

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extrinsic
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Consider investigating CNF poetics texts. And reading similarly styled CNF essays.

Phillip Lopate's The Art of the Personal Essay is a signal work in the CNF field.

Lee Gutkind, editor of the digest Creative Nonfiction is a self-styled godfather of CNF.

Philip Gerard's Writing Creative Nonfiction is more recent and also a signal work. Like Lopate's, it has some essays on method and reading essays refelecting those methods used in the best of CNF.

Bill Roorbach's Writing Life Stories is a romp through methods and strategies for writing creative nonfiction, memoir mostly.

Dave Gessner's recent book-length essay, The Tarball Chronicles, was conceived, developed, and written about and during the recent Deepwater Horizons Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Your proposal sounds somewhat Thoreauvian, Transcendentalism. There's an entire Transcendentalism Revival movement going on focused on environmentalism. Topically, those are well-tread waters. Melding environmentalism with the Occupy movement and a journey of self-discovering meaning is something I think is timely and potentially marketable. I'm working on a related project with a narrowed focus on a personal meaning of the polarized environmental clash, negotiating a third-space personal accomodation with the pushmi-pullya oscillations of the times.

Also, I have a listing of CNF techniques, including fiction writing techniques used in CNF I could share, if you're inclined. Preeminent among CNF strategies is techniques which authenticate a narrative. In other words, willing suspension of disbelief, an essential fiction writing feature, must never be invoked or called into question.

[ November 16, 2011, 03:21 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Bent Tree
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I would be very interested in your CNF techniques listing. At the advice of another, I have been meaning to investigate that further.

I appreciate your input. I think my denouncement of current events has impeded my ability to strive for any political objectives such as the Occupy movement, but I value your market idea and will give it some thought.

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redux
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My advice? Be prepared to be heavily criticized.

quote:
I will live for six months without working for money, intentionally earning money, or spending money in any way.
Readers will wonder how will you be providing for your children. They will also wonder how you're affording internet access to blog if you are neither intentionally earning money nor spending it.
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Bent Tree
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Thats what I will be writing about
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Robert Nowall
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Gandhi's friends used to complain about all the money they had to spend to keep Gandhi in poverty...I suppose with the right support structure, and plans for the unexpected and / or emergencies, you might be able to pull it off. (But, yeah, what "redux" said, they'll wonder about your children.)
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Bent Tree
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Hypothetically, what would be the difference if someone was forced into the situation such as due to a layoff or something?
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redux
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Intentionally not working when you have children is considered morally objectionable.

Being laid off simply makes you a victim of your circumstances but doesn't preclude you from finding other means to provide for your children.

If this is what you plan on blogging about simply be prepared to be criticized and even vilified. Your life and choices will be scrutinized by your readers.

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Bent Tree
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I am not proposing to not work. On the contrary, I am examining ways of working, bartering, building community without American currency. One of my ideas involves staying at my friends organic farm, where he provides room and board, a comfortable one in which we eat and live very well for the work I provide at his farm and through helping him promote at market employing my skills as a chef, by doing cooking demonstrations etc...

My children are healthy, vibrant and brilliant and will never be in jeopardy of not being provided for.

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Bent Tree
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quote:
Intentionally not working when you have children is considered morally objectionable.
I know many salt of the earth mothers not earning income, stay-at-home. I am interested by the intensity of your initial reaction.
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redux
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I think you need to make that very clear from the very beginning - that you are working for food and shelter. Your initial comment made it seem like you intentionally planned not to work and simply blog about that.
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Bent Tree
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Sorry about the confusion. As I mentioned, I am somewhat unfocused as far as specific goals for the theme of the project. This dialogue is very helpful to me. Thank you.
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EVOC
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Yea I would rephrase your idea to say. That you plan to provide for yourself and your family without spending any money.

This way you are a bit more clear. You certianly will be working and you say up front that you will provide for the family.

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redux
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I think those salt of the earth mothers not earning income are nevertheless working if they are taking care of their children.

Again, if you don't want your role as a father scrutinized you really need to make it very clear how your children will not be negatively affected by your personal experiment. Be sure to include that in the 'About Me' section of your blog.

Once you open your life to the public your private decisions will be questioned, judged and moralized.

Edited to add: This can truly be a noble experiment,you just need to clearly define the parameters.

[ November 16, 2011, 02:42 PM: Message edited by: redux ]

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Bent Tree
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Thanks again. This has already proved to a valuable lesson, in that regard. I will have to be willing to be scrutinized in order to pull this off. I am glad I dealt with it here first. It isn't exactly easy.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Bent Tree:
I would be very interested in your CNF techniques listing. At the advice of another, I have been meaning to investigate that further.

I appreciate your input. I think my denouncement of current events has impeded my ability to strive for any political objectives such as the Occupy movement, but I value your market idea and will give it some thought.

Political movement aside, I mean an underlying personal meaning for the Occupy movement.

A short list of CNF methods for consideration;
Artful Craft and Voice are as essential for CNF as fiction. However, unlike fiction's dependence on plot as a primary organizing principle, other organizing principles are equally effective for CNF and generally considered more artful. Organizing principles based on character, for example, or theme, or setting, or discourse, or event: causation.

Escalation, for example. Chronological organization, counterintuitively, is frowned upon as a prime organizing principle for CNF. Ideal CNF timelines artfully jump transition from a now time to a remote past or a remote future time, not as flashbacks or flashfowards, but as recollections and introspections, beginning in one or another time, switching up as circumstances suggest, ever while escalating some feature of craft or voice.

Craft organizing principles, in a sense of increasingly close narrative distance varied with ever more remote narrative distance; for example, from intimate to clinically detached, and closer yet, and farther remote, until so close it's like being in immediate empathy space with another, and a bit of far remote clinical detachment is a tension release. With the now time essential and often foreground or the other past or future time foreground.

Voice in CNF, like fiction voice, must emote. The rant form being one of the more recognizable CNF voices. Other voice emotions are considered artful as well, so long as they project a clear emotional attitude toward a topic, and with some flexibilty and variety of voice. Say from forelorn to optimistic. Whatever.

The Upright Pronoun, the I of a narrator's presence and standing to a topic falls on an axis of extremes from none to entirely about the self. None is generally considered artfull; entirely present, self-centric is generally considered artless, invoking the much deprecated author surrogacy considerations of self-centric importance, self-idealization, and self-efficacy. Three counters widely used to offset author suurogacy are blunt, frank, vulnerable honesty, self-effacement, and self-deprecation, the latter being widely used because it's easy to construct.

Once a CNF narrator is introduced, the narrator's presence must be earned, so to speak, by having some personal purpose for the narrator's "I" presence. An artful technique for earning presence is to reveal idiosyncracies that are unique to the individual with universal appeal. Idiosyncracies can be related to but artfully remind readers they are not the narrator. That's one critical distinction between fiction and CNF. Reader self-identification with persons, settings, and such is paramount for fiction. A degree of close detachment is essential for CNF.

It is, after all, curiosity about the other which most engages readers, and particularly in the foreground for CNF, regardless of genre. The why-do-I-care reader dramatic question, about so-and-so or whatever topic or subject is on point, is as significant to fiction as to CNF. Show readers a narrator to care about and the narrator presence and detachment are earned.

Scene, like with fiction, for CNF is in the sense of orientation to persons, times, places, situations, and attitudes of a narrative's persons and settings. Idiom and idiosyncracy juxtaposed with the commonplace imitate the personal reality of a CNF narrative's persons and settings.

Writing about the other and the unknown, writing about what you don't know, in order to access personal meaning are core principles of CNF techniques.

Those are large scale considerations fo CNF techniques. Smaller scale techniques focus on diction and syntax. Useful rhetorical tropes and schemes for CNF reflect oral models, repetition, substitution, amplification. For example, the famous tricolon attributed to Caesar is an example of all three, Vini, vidi, vici. I came, I saw, I conquered. And other rhetorical schemes, like asyndeton, also, parallelism.

The trope of simile generally is considered more artful for CNF than metaphor, where for fiction the opposite is valid. Though either should be accessible and judiciously, timely, artfully used. Simile's power for CNF is to make contrarily equivocal and unequivocal comparisions. Like but not the same as . . .

Using hedging words to signal subjectiveness is a fundamental CNF technique generally frowned on in fiction for uncertainty and vagueness. Seems to, somewhat, maybe, I think, and so on. Personal bias when artfully presented has a power to engage readers. When artless, like by preaching or making incredible claims, bias is alienating.

Anyway, that's a quick list, more if you'd like as my time permits.

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Bent Tree
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I added a few objectives to the original post.
Now let me add a few of my biggest concerns:
-Paying for my diabetic supplies
-phone bill
-medical emergencies
-Child support( Currently I pay a certain amount and provide them with organic food)

Otherwise, my situation is pretty much easy to transition. I currently have the kids at our little cottage( which rent and utilities are paid through 2013 from the work and investment we have made towards its renovation. I could conceivably live for several months on our pantry, garden, and animals we and friends raise.) on the weekends, and I sit with them at their mother's apartment after school during the week.

We have a well-established community of friends in which equitable barter is already a bit of a practice. Services such as massage, chiropractic, counseling, are already being made available to me through trade.

I suppose parameters that the readership will expect is what I am thinking about at the moment.

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Teraen
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I am curious, why do you want to do this? Aside from potentially shortchanging your ex spouse who may be relying on child support, I think I would be most skeptical about what you were hoping to achieve/discover/prove with this. Mankind turned from the barter system thousands of years ago precisely because it wasn't as good a way of getting your needs filled.

I would be interested in your reasoning behind wanting to do this and what you know/ will learn about economics during the project...

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elilyn
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Just a helpful hint; if you are working for room and board you are likely still earning "wages" according to the government. See #46 below.

Social Security

(If you were working for someone other than a friend they would likely give you a tax statement for the value of your room and board)

Now if your goal is not to earn cash money then I would say your method is still in line with your goal. If your goal is to remove yourself from the economic system entirely then you might want to rethink it a bit.

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shimiqua
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I think you guys are missing the point. There has been a huge influx of people who are trying to live simply. Look at the tiny house phenomenon. I think the idea is a cool one.

I personally would focus less on not making any money, but focus on getting rid of the idea that you need money, or grocery stores, or fancy cars to survive.

I think the idea you have here could be profitable.

Which, of course, spits in the face of what you are trying to do here.

Best of luck with it. Post your blog address, and I'll be interested in following.

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MAP
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I'm with Sheena on this. The interesting part is to really look at what we really need to have a decent lifestyle.

With so many people in massive debt and our economy struggling, people are looking to see where they can save money. And if you can give them tips on how to still live comfortably on a tight budget, I think a lot of people will find that interesting.

So I think you should focus less on the making money aspect and more on the creative solutions to saving money.

I'd certainly read that blog.

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extrinsic
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Thoreau's Walden has a central theme of living as simply as possible. Thoreau's living simply oriented on self-reliance, minimal environmental footprint, and journey of self-discovery.

Readers who are avid Thoreau followers are probably attracted out of rapport and wish fulfillment and escapism by the self-reliance feature.

I don't much care for Walden's degree of author surrogacy. Too self-idealized and self-efficacious for my sensibilities, jeapordizing willing suspension of disbelief. It doesn't seem as authenticated as my experiences indicate he encountered. A few areas that do engage me are when Thoreau recognizes his failings or doesn't, yet they shine through and when his purpose clashes with internal and external complications.

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Bent Tree
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Thanks for your feedback. I am at the farm now doing a trial run. Internet is tethered from my iPhone which has poor service, so I will fill you in on my refined goals tomorrow.

Good news, though . Dog Horn is sending , " Bite Me, Robot Boy" to print next week. It is an anthology in which my story, " Come to Me, Lover" appears.

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KayTi
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It's a great idea, Scott. I have a lot of hooks into the non-fiction blogger scene and there is literally a blog out there for EVERYONE, and there are many flavors of the "live simply" concept right now, it is a hot topic and one worth exploring at a deeper level. While I think there are tons of blogs and tons of people talking, I think there is always room for one more voice, one more strong opinion, one more person with a point of view and an ability to express him/herself.

Most bloggers will tell you there are some keys to success - first, be somewhat predictable. Some say to schedule posts on certain days, others say post at least 3-5x/week. Your mileage may vary, but for readership this level of regularity/predictability is pretty key. I have failed on it pretty much every time. [Wink] I personally am a fan of the 500-1000 word length in blog posts. Some bloggers just drone on and on and it kills me. Others just rehash a few news stories they were looking at with 100-200 new words of content. That sort of annoys me. Nothing wrong with posting a list of links and commentary saying "this is what I'm reading/what caught my interest today/this week" but to continually do that as a means of achieving 3-5 posts/week is a cheat in my ever-so-humble opinion.

Third (am I making a list?) -- think hard about your voice before you start writing, and try to maintain that voice for your posts. I have a slightly different voice I use for parenting posts on my mommy blog versus my writing posts on my author blog. It's important. My parenting voice is very strong-opinioned about certain topics that I just wouldn't want to turn off my potential readers of my fiction with, so I choose to keep those separate. There are also topics I choose not to write about. Just because I *could* write about this sensational topic or that one doesn't mean I want or need to. I have my own writerly integrity that plays a role in choosing subject matter for blog posts and things like that.

Fourth, use an image with each post. Even if you have to really stretch to find something that connects, just trust me, it's really key. So much of blog post sharing now is happening via social media sites and aggregators (for ex, I cross-post my mommy blog and some of my writing blog to the BlogHer network, a women's interest group that connects blogs with readers. It's not a requirement to be a girl to write content and post it on BlogHer, you might look into that as a possible channel for your content, I think you'd find some kindred souls...) But really, an image is key to making sense out of the blurb and title of the blog post before deciding if I want to click through to read the whole thing.

And truthfully, these days there are a lot of people moving from blog to book (and vice-versa.) I think it's a really smart business decision, even as you're trying to make non-business decisions. I'm amused by the existential crisis inherent in that whole thing, but really want you to go forward with this project because I want to read your posts! [Smile]

Last, always always always put a link to your blog in your .sig of your emails and in your bios on your various sites and of course push posts through onto facebook, and while you're at it create a facebook fan page for your blog and push the posts there, too. I have fans on my facebook fan page (Karen T. Smith) that I don't know at all, terribly exciting to have perfect strangers excited about my work. [Wink]

Best of luck to you. This is a great project, and I hope you have a lot of success with it. Have you settled on a name? Foraging and Found Food, living and thriving as far off the grid as I can...? Back to Basics: Finding food, friends, and fulfillment in the process of meeting basic human needs. Something, there's a gem in there somewhere. [Wink]

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Bent Tree
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Well, I just got back from the farm. The kids stayed with us this weekend. Ironically, we just watched a documentary on PBS about John Hoto, who imprinted a group of wild turkeys and lived with them in the wild for a year, teaching them how to live. He has done the same with wild geese. Ironic part is, he built the house on the farm where we stayed. It is an amazing house. He is an amazing fellow.

The owner of the farm is a long time friend and as a chef, I used him to supply my restaurant with organic foods. Staying there is more than the "room and board" type of relationship. He has many People that do that as a part of the WOOF, which is an organic farming apprenticeship program. Our involvement is something more long term possibly, more of a community ran farm.

Life there is more than just working for a place to stay, we cook meals together, eat, play music, go to markets, etc...

This weekend we began the harvesting of the sugar cane crop. I participated in this last year also. There are several essays I have written simply on that subject. Namely how corn syrup has ruined the pecan pie. At the farm we grow, harvest, press, boil and jar the cane syrup. This is one of the offerings we sell at markets. The kids had an amazing time and learned a lot about where food actually comes from. Then it was popcorn and star wars in the "movie theatre" of the WOOFer house.

Other things we do at the farm: Manufacture biodiesel, convert cars to run on biodiesel, grow ****ake, oyster, and other mushrooms, many crops, 300 blueberry plants, small orchard, grain crops (that we grind and make bread) Oil Seed Crops that we press into oil (sunflower primarily)

I am also writing a grant for a soil building project that is designed for a homesteader that involves a combination of vermicomposting, mycoculture, and legume crops to build ideal soil health. I have been encouraged to do this from several high-ups in the Extension service and a director at FAMU.

As far as what my goals and focus are to be. I am sure their will be a few hemes that emerge on there own, mostly personal tones that will emerge from the transparency of my writing about the most personal aspects of my life. But above all else, I want to convey the fact that money is not everything, and there are fundamental skills that can enable anyone to live and eat very well, even under these toughening economic times.

I am not really an alarmist, but as times get tougher for the average people in this economy, their are ways to come together as community, and create your own great way of life. Community gardens, Cooperative buying to buy in bulk, etc...

For those of you that are my FB friends you can check out some of the pics of the kids... they had a great time.

@Karen- I am still working on the name, " Money Isn't Everything" I really like your, "Finding Food, Friends, and Fulfillment..." Idea, perhaps a subtitle?

Thank you everyone for your feedback. Thank you, extrinsic for your information.

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Bent Tree
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From blog to book?
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