The Lyric Essay Represents a New Sub-Genre That at First Glance Seems Puzzling, For How Can Non-Fiction be a Creative Piece?

The Lyric Essay Represents a New Sub-Genre That at First Glance Seems Puzzling, For How Can Non-Fiction be a Creative Piece?

I stare out of the window, across the desolate fields that stretch into the distance. Brittle branches barely move in the stiff breeze; winter has descended upon the trees freezing them still. The gentle falling snow seduces me into a trance-like state. A pen sits lightly in my palm, rocking ever so slightly between my thumb and forefinger, barely tapping the oak desk I am seated behind. Writer's block consumes me. The concept of the lyric essay runs through my mind. What does it all mean? Where am I to begin?

There is no one definitive and clearly labeled box within which the term “lyric essay” can be placed into for this will mean many different things to many different writers (and readers for that matter), but for me it means a possibility to describe real events as I see them and as I choose to create them in my writing.

“The essay is, and has been, all over the map. There's nothing you cannot do with it; no subject matter is forbidden, no structure is proscribed. You get to make up your own structure every time, a structure that arises from the materials and best contains them.” (149) How exquisite is this metaphorical concept of “containers” within which to place my writing! How wonderful to know that the possibilities are truly limitless and infinite in nature. The endearing aspect to the idea behind the lyric essay is the notion that I am without limitations and am able to write in any manner that suits my mood at the moment.

I could stare out of this window for hours. Perhaps I am stalling for I am unsure of what to say next. I get lost in my own thoughts and immediately try to remember what it is I am trying to convince my reader of. I place my pen back upon the nearly blank page in my journal and begin to write once more.

“When we write in lyric essay mode, we create not only prose pieces, but a portrait of our subconscious selves, the part of us that speaks in riddles or in brief imagistic flashes.” (148) What does this mean? Well for me, it reiterates the notion that as I write to my audience, I am inadvertently exposing who I am as a person by the words I choose to use in my writing. The simple act of describing an event, person or place tells my reader not only my story, but gives an inside glimpse of how my mind works to formulate such a tale in the first place. Whichever words I choose to use gives my writing a life or personality that reestablishes my sense of self.

I stop writing for a moment to reread what it is that I have just written. The words seemed to have flowed freely from my thoughts and yet I wonder if the reader will even care about what it is I am saying? I resist the urge to crumple the paper tightly and continue on..

“Lyric essays are fluid forms, bending to fit the content as it arises. (149) What freedom this gives me as a writer. No outline or strict rigid regimens to follow. No rules, regulations or formats to maintain. I can write whatever comes to my mind, allowing the words to form the story as they see fit. Perhaps this could be considered free-write for in some instance it most certainly is and yet I cannot help but note that with this freedom comes the pressure to create something profound enough that a reader will actually choose to continue to read. How do I maintain enough interest to keep someone reading?

My daughter's cries interrupt my thoughts instantly. The snow outside of my window has suddenly stopped and as a small ray of sunlight snakes its way out of the gray clouds I think of spring. How nice it would be to be writing this outside in the warm sun in my hammock. It is so much easier to create writing in a pleasant environment, free of distractions. Now where was I? Oh yes, I remember:

Within the creation of the lyric essay it is “up to the author to establish a certain level of trust.” (34) Of course I can write of truthful things as I remember them, but I need to be careful to maintain a devotion to the truth as well as I can. This means that I need to put in the utmost effort to ensure that what I am saying is not an elaboration of constructed memory that could come back to haunt me.

What do I mean by this? Well, for starters I need to create a piece that is believable to my reader, one that they can relate to and yet I must also establish a sense of trust with what I choose to write. One wrong word that doesn't fit or causes unease could cause my audience to immediately distrust my story and that discredits what it is I am trying to get them to believe. An audience member is human and so am I so it is crucial to establish a common ground that won't be viewed as cliché or weak.

So how do I ensure that the piece I am choosing to create is something that anyone would actually want to read in the first place? This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of writing a lyric essay; keeping your reader engaged long enough to finish the piece. Along with being devoted to the truth and believable within my writing, it is imperative to have enough pizazz or “oomph” to keep the reader interested. I have to be careful to not overwhelm the reader with my “issues.”

In order to do so, I must be able to establish sufficient “distance from the self in order to write effectively.” (44) I can write from my perspective to ensure credibility about what I am saying and yet I need to be careful that I do not turn the piece into a self-pity party; a writing void of any growth of my character. This will drag the entire piece down and cause my reader to feel as though they themselves are now my therapist.
Emotional truth is relevant, but drowning my readers in my tears is not.

There I go again, staring out of my damn window! How quickly I am able to lose track of my thoughts. My pen is dead weight in my hand; an anchor holding me down. Forcing me to become aware of the fact that I am carrying the burden of writing something brilliant; GENIUS! How tiresome. Remember what I told you earlier? A lyric essay can take any form I choose! It moves freely from one topic to the next. It showcases what it means to truly be human. It magnifies experience and emotion. It exemplifies the truth! It lures you in because as you read this you cannot help but be persuaded to believe in what I am saying.

“There, all finished,” I think. I lean back against the soft padding of my chair as I let the pen roll out of my palm and onto the desk. As I close my journal I cannot help but smile. I feel a sense of accomplishment now that I have finished my essay, a lyric essay. I get up from my desk, walk across the room. I pause for a brief second as I exit through my bedroom door, glancing momentarily out of my window one last time. The sun has disappeared behind the clouds again. Sigh.

Works Cited
Miller, Brenda, and Suzanne Paola. Tell It Slant. New York: McGraw Hill, 2004.