I’ve never assigned a very short stunt journalism project the likes of which you’ll be doing from April 26 – May 2. In fact I fancied that idea – a very brief immersion project – to be rather original. And fun. And useful in a concentrated learning-by-doing sort of way.
I should be used to this by now, this being the universe throwing things into our laps right when we need them, yet still, imagine my surprise when I read about the same idea, with a prize. Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog post, dated April 9, announces an Immersion Contest.
Robin Hemley who leads the Nonfiction Writing Program at University of Iowa, will judge the contest of 500-word immersion stories. 500 words. Yeah, you wouldn’t want to repeat yourself with a word count that tight. Hemley breaks down five categories of immersion: the Reenactment, the Experiment, the Quest, the Investigation, and the Infiltration. Deadline is May 11. Just in time for our projects to be imagined, enacted, written, polished, and entered.
No, entering the contest isn’t mandatory for our class. But if the higher stakes help push you to better writing, then do it. If you’re stuck on how to begin, remember that concept of creating tension in your writing. How can you find an experience to push back against the tide?
To inspire, I leave you with a list which comes from the opening of one of my favorite immersion experience books, The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless Across America by Mike McIntyre. It’s about a guy who decides to face his fears and walk or hitchhike across the country with no money, no plans, nothing but a backpack and a sleeping bag.
“My final destination is Cape Fear, North Carolina, chosen as a symbol for all the fears I know I’ll have to conquer if I’m to go the distance. If I make it to Cape Fear, it will be as a different man from the one who starts the journey.
I’ve been afraid my whole life.
I was born scared.
I grew up afraid of the baby-sitter, the mailman, the birds in the trees, the next-door cat.
I’m afraid of the dark. I’m afraid of the ocean. I’m afraid of flying.
I’m afraid of the city and I’m afraid of the wilderness. I’m afraid of crowds and I’m afraid of being alone. I’m afraid of failure and I’m afraid of success.
I’m afraid of fire, lightning, earthquakes.
I’m afraid of snakes. I’m afraid of bats. I’m afraid of bears.
I’m afraid of spontaneous human combustion.
I’m afraid of losing an arm. I’m afraid of losing a leg. I’m afraid of losing my mind.
Yes, and I’m afraid of dying, too. But what really scares the hell out of me is living.
I rise early the morning of September 6 and scan the paper. The O.J. Simpson murder trial is the top story. Oliver Stone’s movie Natural Born Killers is number one at the box office. A third body has been found shot to death on Interstate 80. And two men from the Midwest are on a cross-country killing spree. I’ve got great timing.”
So go scare yourself. Or amaze yourself. Go challenge, inform, delight yourself. Then write well about it.