Any situation can be presented as a tragedy or a comedy. It is up to the writer to capture the proper atmosphere and sway the reader. In fiction, authors are encouraged to “write their pain.” In journalism, “the truth,” is supposed to be presented. Because these two areas of interest can be quite grim, I find that writing about parenting from the lighter side of creative nonfiction is a perfect balance for literary license.
Readers like to laugh. They need it and will love you if you can induce it. There is nothing more rejuvenating than absorbing a heartwarming tale that leaves a smile or at least a chuckle. It’s not an easy task.
Many writers over-examine everything, but this can be used to our advantage. Figuring out how to do that is a true skill, one that I’m still working to perfect. When done properly it’s a determined success. So how does a person find that angle, that hook that makes life shine with a bit more polish?
The first thing is to push aside the mundane. As parents, very few people are interested in reading about what TV shows we watch, unless it’s a humor piece about “How Paw Patrol Ruined My Life.” Interesting yet relatable material with a fun spin is where parents connect.
I generally try to avoid politics, because they are incredibly divisive and often lose the point. Parenting articles can be universal to everyone no matter who they vote for, what they believe, or where they come from because raising children is a task filled with little moments of contradiction. Those hiccups where no matter what you do you get it wrong are the most commonly known issues. That is where things get interesting.
Taking a specific instance where you felt helpless, foolish, stressed, of angry is a start. It’s easy to allow those emotions to resurface because they were strong. Strong emotions bleed through in writing. They make us cry. They help us cope with our own parental guilt. We understand the woes of others, and that is a good thing.
Once you bring people to the edge it’s important to not let them fall too far. Just as tears are welling up, that’s when finding the humor or shining a light on the entire scope of the situation opens up the content for our hearts to explore. It makes the writing unforgettable.
When I wrote my piece, “Leading Through Kindness,” I worked to set the tone and scene. It was a normal situation, just kids playing at the park. Then my children befriended a boy with six fingers and the moment when they realized his difference was crucial.
I could have gone on and on about how I was bullied as a child or how, I, even at times bullied others in retaliation. This sweet little story could have been a robotic essay lecturing people on the necessity of accepting others no matter what our differences are. It could have been a boring report of every detail that occurred. Instead, I wished to craft a piece that really showed people how something so trivial could have been a huge issue if I made it one.
My response fueled my children’s response: “I wish I had six fingers.”
That sentence, that simple piece of childhood wisdom broke the tension. It makes people laugh, or at least smile. It is a lighthearted truth that reminds us of our compassion.
Paying attention matters. Stopping to listen to your kid(s) or your partner can make all the difference. If I hadn’t have been attentive I would never have noticed the importance of the matter.
As writers, it is our job to be alert. Staying aware of our surroundings and those who inhabit them is one of the most underrated tools we have. Every experience is an opportunity. It can lead to growth or undiscovered information we never even fathomed. For example: breastfeeding struggles. I wrote about this for La Leache League International.
Not every mother can or chooses to breastfeed, and it’s important to emphasize support of all methods, but as a mother who breastfed three children and is currently breastfeeding my fourth, I can say that writing about it leads down many paths. It can be difficult and depressing at times. There is a lot to learn and cope with. It’s a full-time job.
Those who wish to find medical information are not going to look to creative nonfiction authors; they’ll seek out medical journals. Politically involved activists may applaud or attack personal pieces if they read them, but more often they stick to articles written for those purposes in newspapers. The serious writing works for those mediums, but when reaching out to others I’ve had far more success writing creative nonfiction about accidentally spraying myself in the face with breastmilk, dragging myself out of bed to feel the love of a baby who clings to me as she poops everywhere, and battling with breast pumps (they are not for the faint of heart).
Every story needs its hook. It’s easier to create that element when setting aside the pain and diving into the hilarity of life, or positively displaying how you overcame a difficulty. Overcoming a difficulty is always relatable. If you can write both you’re unstoppable.
I previously wrote a very significant post for my website about when my daughter cracked her head opened and received much praise. It was a terrifying experience. Thankfully I did once work in a medical field and was able to do what needed to be done to stop the bleeding and get her to safety, but I had never worked with humans. I was a veterinary assistant and that detail brightened the story. I was able to look back and laugh at how my experience aiding in surgery with dogs helped my little girl.
Her courage and ability to enjoy herself in the emergency room aided the piece. When we talk about what happened now she smiles at how she got to play video games and eat a Popsicle as she got her “magic strings,” also known as stitches.
Keeping those details fresh in my mind touched the audience. Readers commented about how their child had a similar experience, or expressed thanks for my writing.
A bit of optimism comes in handy. That’s not always available to writers. We get stuck in loops watching the publishing world reject our work or herald others with less to say, but to combat this, we must appreciate getting the story out and reading it for ourselves. If you can make yourself laugh and cry after recording a moment with your children, it has value and merits a place with some kind of readership… even if that starts and ends with other family members.
No amount of writing is ever wasted. Avoiding the mundane and politics, while recording details and events, turning negative emotions into learning experiences, and paying attention to the world around us is what builds great creative nonfiction. Add in a dash of optimism and you’ll earn your name.