This is the twelfth in a series of micro craft essays exploring the finer points of writing. Check back each week for a new Craft Capsule.
Last week I spent two hours watching commercials for McDonald’s from the early 1990s. This was research. I had remembered a specific toy, one I was sure had first come into our house as a Happy Meal giveaway promoting that year’s hit Disney movie. The detail fit neatly into the essay at hand.
Except that our heroine’s pose was all wrong. And what was up with her jointed legs? She had been a figurine, not an action figure. Eventually, jumping from link to link, I found the exact toy I’d been picturing. But this one had been a Happy Meal giveaway for the movie’s sequel, released several years later.
As a poet I can blur the details; as a fiction writer, I could invent anew. But a nonfiction writer must work with the facts, even the inconvenient ones. The essay would have to change.
This is the memoirist’s curse: You have to trust the energy of your first drafts, all bright images and daisy-chain memories. You have to love what you’ve put on the page. Then you have to go after what you’ve written with a hammer and a chisel, tap-tap-tapping, to see what holds up. You have to love the rubble, too.
Sandra Beasley is the author of three poetry collections, including Count the Waves (Norton, 2015), and a memoir. Her website is SandraBeasley.com.