Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Is it all really copy someday for nonfiction writers?

"No matter what happens, it's all copy." – Nora Ephron, quoting her mother

Those of us who write nonfiction often offer some variation of this observation to other nonfiction writers, and to ourselves, usually when something unpleasant, or even slightly terrible happens. We lose a job, fall out with a friend, are treated shabbily by someone or some system, crash the car, lose a fight, a chance, a love.

"Ah well," we nonfiction narrative writers and personal essayists and memoir writers say to one another, "It will all be copy one day."

It's a way to remind ourselves that this too shall pass, that while we are gathering even lousy life experiences, one day we will probably write about them, and who knows, maybe by then they won't seem quite so bad. Or maybe by then we will have learned something from the crappy experience, even if that something hurts, even if it's something we wished to avoid learning, even if all we learned is that we never want to learn it again.

As shorthand expressions go, "It's all copy someday," seems to me both spot-on smart, and also a bit sad. 

Really? Is that all we can say about the bad luck and bad times that befall us and others? That it's just one more thing? Are we nonfiction writers so crass that we think of every lousy thing that happens as fuel to feed the hungry page?  

Or are we keenly aware that going to the page one day with our terrible experiences and complicated emotions, is a gift, a second chance to figure out what we find too hard to process at the time? A way to honor what happened by finding some meaning?


Darlene Craviotto said...

To quote the Stones: "Whatever gets you through the night." Sometimes I think writers need to distance themselves from immediate overpowering emotions. So we say to ourselves, "I'll use this some day." I'm not sure we do this just because we're writers. Maybe as people we feel TOO much, and it's just too painful for us to handle life as it's thrown at us.

Lisa Romeo said...

Yes, Darlene, I think you make a good point. I often find I can't write about something soon after it happens (good or bad), but from the long lens perspective, I can.
Same, I guess, for just thinking about it, even if not writing.

kario said...

Thinking about it as fodder for my writing often gives me a chance to contemplate how this latest version of difficulty fits in to the larger picture of my life and the lessons I ought to be learning. That said, sometimes it keeps me from feeling the tough feelings as deeply as I could be, so it can be a crutch.

Barbara McDowell Whitt said...

Lisa, I like what Nora Ephron's mother said. As I read the diary entries I wrote each night when I was a high school and then a college student in the early 1960s, I am reminded of the observations and thoughts that made it onto each night's page. Some I have forgotten, others are as fresh as the day or night they happened. I know the "good girl" life I led meant most of my "happenings" have been "blog worthy" from my POV 50 years later. I have drawn a line through very few sentences that might incriminate me as I used actual names of fellow students, teachers, instructors and professors. The "reporter" in me (then and now) has actually thought of each page (post) as "copy."

Middle-aged Diva (Carol) said...

One reason I love memoir is that it provides a window into how others handle life issues--I'm grateful that it's all fodder. And for those of us driven to write, it is most definitely a way to make sense of life, although sometimes it can also be a way to wallow. I just know that I don't have a choice. I have to write it, so it must be how I process life. Of course,I've noticed that it's way harder to write when I'm content than when there's inherent drama and serious emotions that are not so happy...but that's a subject for another time. And as you will see. ;-)