Mix up your nonfiction with some new organizational techniques
Tell it Slant is a Wonderful Creative Nonfiction Book
I found an amazing book that provides suggestions on different ways to organize and write articles. Tell it Slant: Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction, by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola.
Sample Article: The Space Race: When Science was Cool.
I used two techniques from this book for my article The Space Race: When Science was Cool. I began the writing process by following their prompt.
Writing prompt: What is the memory that always emerges from the dim reaches of your consciousness at the first one, the beginning to this life you call your own?
Start with Your First Memory
My first memory was of man landing on the moon. I did a free-write about everything I could remember about that night. Bear in mind that I was not quite three years old on July 20, 1969.
After my free write, I went and checked my memory with the truth on NASA websites. Things got interesting comparing memory with fact.
“It is funny the way memories are erroneous. I thought I had seen the astronauts step on the moon, but I later learned that the broadcast had been in audio only. Apollo 11 had a silent film camera mounted on the side and this recorded the moment, but the audio and film were not merged until the astronauts returned to earth and the film could be developed.” — Kimberly Us
My dim and faulty memories seem appropriate when you consider the mythology of the Space Race. Although based on science, the Space Race had many sociological and political motives. The effort to land a man on the moon was composed of nationalism, fear and media spectacle.
Glorious Facts: Research Rabbit Holes
As recommended by Tell it Slant, I listed all the “flood subjects” I could think of relating to the Space Race. I captured my thinking in a mind map. This is a graphic with the topic in a circle in the center. As you think, you draw spokes that radiate off of it with related topics.
On the mind map, I realized I was interested in the way the Space Race was used as a propaganda tool for both the Soviets and the U.S.A. This is where I decided to begin my research.
Once I started researching, I allowed myself to jump into the rabbit hole and follow tunnels that interested me.
As a science teacher, I knew the Sputnik satellite released by the Soviets was what motivated the U.S. to start improving science instruction in the public schools.
One of my favorite books, The Fifties, by David Halberstam, had an entire chapter devoted to Sputnik and the beginning of the Space Race. It provided terrific details on President Eisenhower and the U.S.S.R.
In my research, I learned that, at first, President Eisenhower did not realize the moral defeat that Sputnik signaled to U.S. citizens. From secret U-2 reconnaissance flights, Eisenhower knew the Soviets did not have as many nuclear arms as they claimed. However, the public didn’t know this classified information so they were terrified by the idea of the Soviets in space.
While researching Soviet accomplishments, I discovered the Soviet Canine Cosmonauts and how the USSR leveraged the dogs for propaganda. This was the fun part of my research. I learned that one of the dogs, Strelka, who had survived orbiting the earth, had puppies.
When Strelka had puppies, Khruschev gave one of them, named Puskina, to J.F. Kennedy’s daughter.
My research spread to pop culture references triggered by the space race. For example, the Sputnik cocktail:
A Sputnik cocktail was one part vodka, and three parts sour grapes.
I loved looking at the Sputnik chandelier which are special midcentury collectors items now. The rockets and space toys of the 1950s and 1960s were delightful.
The entire research process was pleasurable and fascinating. Writing that article taught me the importance of following my interests and not approaching research with a rigid list.
Too often I listen to the drill sergeant in my head, and I realized that my blog can be a place to play and make discoveries.
Using the different organizational structures and prompts of Tell it Slant has rejuvenated my writing process. Listicles might capture the most attention, but they are pretty boring to write. I enjoyed mixing up my creative nonfiction techniques.
Interested in reading articles about midcentury topics and mythology? Sign up for my mailing list.