By: Danielle Fahey
If you’ve taken any type of creative writing course, you’ve probably heard the term “creative nonfiction.” Creative nonfiction is a form of writing that fits in with the likes of poetry and fiction. You might be thinking, “How is nonfiction supposed to be creative? Isn’t it just facts and figures?” But personal essays, letters to the editor, and opinion pieces all count as forms of creative nonfiction. They are ways of telling stories, and bringing important literary themes to the forefront in a way that is purely authentic and factual. Notable writers of this craft include David Sedaris, Brenda Miller, Tom Wolfe, and Lee Gutkind, and they all got far in their work by writing engaging narratives of their lives that appeal to a wide audience.
You also might be thinking that personal narratives are too embarrassing for you to share with the outside world, or that they’re cliché, rose-colored pieces of the cutesy quirks of life. But in reality, personal stories are reflections of the deepest facets of ourselves – our inner thoughts and motivations that provide profound insight about life, or eye-opening social and political commentary. All good writing, after all, comes from the unique emotional core of ourselves, so what better way to reveal that than with creative nonfiction? You don’t have to make it incredibly personal, either, and you don’t have to reveal real names or addresses to write a great creative nonfiction piece. You just have to tell your story: your important life chapter that leaves readers thinking and drawing conclusions and wanting more.
So how does one master creative nonfiction? Well, like any form of writing, the best way to progress is to practice. Practice whenever you can, as often as you can. A good way to start is to think of an event in your life (or series of events) that were significant, and start writing. Find a quiet place to focus, such as the library or your local coffee shop, and allow yourself to reminisce. What stood out to you? What were some of the notable moments? Were these moments horrible, funny, gross, wonderful? Really take the time to visualize them and write about them through the senses. What did you see, smell, taste, touch, or hear that made it important? What can you distinctly remember and describe in an intriguing manner?
In addition to visualization and practice, focus on the “story” aspect of your writing. The most important thing to remember is that the only difference between creative nonfiction and fiction is that you aren’t making anything up. There aren’t any elaborate fantasy elements or false details. But you can still write a great story about it. Figurative language is a great way to start. As you practice writing, make use of similes, metaphors, alliteration, and other language you find in typical creative writing works. You don’t have to get insanely poetic, but making use of figurative language is a fantastic way to not only have your writing resonate better with your readers, but help establish your overall themes as well.
Writing creative nonfiction is not an easy feat. Sometimes it’s hard to get your words out, or it’s hard to find the time to practice your craft. But the same goes for pretty much any type of creative writing, and good writing surely takes time. So, with enough diligence, revisions, and sense of purpose, you’ll be well on your way to achieving your writing goals!