Monday, June 20, 2011

What I Know That No One Else Knows

Sandra Cisneros
The title of this post is inspired by an interview with Sandra Cisneros in which she talks about her inspiration for writing The House on Mango Street when she was a 22-year-old graduate student at Iowa.  You can view a wonderful segment of the interview here.  Cisneros talks about one of the key things she teaches her writing students.  So often students struggle to get inspired--or to stay inspired.  She says to them, ask yourself this: "What can I write about that no one else can write about?"  

If you watch the video, you'll see how she arrived at this productive question.  The question will often lead to uncomfortable, but powerful answers, and these answers can provide the writer with rich territory for writing.  If you are feeling stuck in your own writing, take a peek at the Cisneros interview for a morsel of inspiration. 

I'm going to take a hiatus from Freewrite Fridays for a bit because my own writing schedule is too full right now, but I'll be posting tips and ideas here all summer long, so I hope you'll keep visiting!

In the meantime, Cisneros's question is my own question to you: What can you write about that no one else can write about?


Gigi said...

This post was inspired by a student of mine who loves The House on Mango Street. Thanks, Megan!

Jillayne said...

I just went and watched the interview.
I have always thought I didn't "become" a writer because I had no story to tell; writing always meant fiction for me. I didn't think I knew enough about anything to ever write non-fiction, so fiction it must be, except there was no story rumbling around my head, no character insisting on being heard.
When Sandra spoke of writer's block as being afraid to tell the story you want, I got it. Got it big.
Except I wasn't afraid to tell a story, but rather, afraid it would be one people wouldn't be interested in... I like philosophy - pondering things and exploring them through words. Clarity always comes to me if I write for it.
I believed though that all the great philosophers were gone. (I wonder if self-help books are philosophy in disguise?)
Over the years people have told me I think differently, I think about and question things that it doesn't occur to them to wonder about.
I started a blog a couple of years ago for my sewing and am finding now that my ponderings are entering into it more and more and I love it. And so I write, and I am writing the kinds of things that I want - no stories, but reflections on the story of life as it unfolds all around me.
I will definitely be checking back in over the summer months - I have learned so much from this blog of yours and am so very grateful you do this.

Gigi said...

Thanks so much for your comment, Jillayne. It seems to me that the kind of writing you describe is the story of the life of the mind--and that's a fascinating story, indeed. I often love novels that are less concerned with "plot" in the traditional sense and more concerned with exploring thoughts and sensations. For that reason, I love the Modernist writers like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. I also love more contemporary writers like Milan Kundera. They make me think and reflect in ways that much fiction doesn't.

I also love reading personal narrative essays by people like E.B. White (his stuff for grown-ups is amazing!) and Mary Oliver. I feel like the personal narrative--and by extension, the memoir--allows for creativity and deep thought. A great new memoir I can recommend is by a friend of mine, Andre Dubus III. It's called Townie, and it's about his life growing up on the North Shore in Massachusetts. The more I read good writing by folks like this, the more my own writing--with fiction or non-fiction-- takes shape as well.

Your comment was so inspiring! Thanks for visiting, and I look forward to keeping in touch here in the wonderful blog world over the summer!

vicki archer said...

A great and very important question....thanks Gigi....xv

d smith kaich jones said...

It is only now, after my mother's death, that I find myself free to write my whole story, and I don't mean that in a bad way, I don't mean she did horrible things that I've kept secret - far from it - but I was always afraid that she would be the one to "hear about it" from others, and I held back.

This all sounds quite dramatic, and it's not at all, but it is odd. Suddenly my words feel different, suddenly I am less concerned about what people think. I said on my blog that I care more since her death, and I care less. It feels like a gift she left me.

Thank you for this.


Jayne said...

More than just a morsel here, Gigi! I loved the interview. She's inspiring. Thank you for posting this. :)

Gigi said...

Thank you, Vicki! I hope it's helpful.

Debi, every word you said in your comment makes so much sense--especially about caring more and caring less simultaneously. This is obviously an incredibly productive time for your writing, and I'm guessing it's only going to become more so as time passes.

Oh, Jayne, I'm so glad it was inspiring! I'm finding it to be such a useful question for my work. My husband, who is a literary critic, watched the interview and said it helped him think about his work more productively, too! Yay for Sandra Cisneros!

lilabraga said...

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Chelsea Talks Smack said...

One of my very favoriet books.

Jennifer said...

thank you.....beautifully asked.

thyme Sarah said...

How wonderful to come upon this. My son just finished this book for his high school English II course. We've had such wonderful discussions about the book, the author, and the time period in Chicago. Thank you for posting it.