Between writing as a hobby and taking a course on it for my major, I’ve written many things, both good and bad. I’ve gone through my share of tragic phases, like my discovery of Fanfiction.net and my melodramatic poetry years in middle school. But somehow, in all of those years, I’d never attempted a nonfiction piece. In fact, when we talked about creative nonfiction in my Creative Writing class, the whole thing seemed daunting. However, with the help of my TA and the courage that comes with late night experiments, I wrote my first creative nonfiction piece (Insert hyperlink of “Tides”). Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Read: I know as aspiring writers we hear it all the time, but one of the best ways to get better at writing is to read a lot, and my first piece of advice is no different for creative nonfiction. Read everything you can because you’ll learn something from all of it, even the ones you don’t think are that good. They can teach you what to do and what not to do. Between class and my own research, I read a lot of nonfiction articles and essays before I felt comfortable writing my own.
- Remember your craft: The only difference between fiction and creative nonfiction is that you’re telling a (mostly) true story. This means don’t forget about your fiction writing elements. Use things like imagery, metaphor, and a consistent voice to make your true story just as entertaining as a work of fiction.
- The big and the small: Make your piece about something big and small at the same time. In her podcast entitled “How to Write a Kick-Ass Essay,” this is Ann Hood’s third piece of advice. Ann Hood is an author of not only fictional novels but memoirs and essays as well. She was asked to speak at a writing conference; the podcast I am referencing is from the talk she gave at that conference. Nonfiction can be really hard because you have to make a true, personal story appeal to a large audience. She tells us to focus on something small and then dig for the enormous. Dig long enough and you’ll find out how that small, seemingly insignificant thing is really connected to something much bigger – something that affects us all.
- Then vs Now: A lot of creative nonfiction pieces are a written reflection of something that happened in the past. That’s exactly what my first nonfiction piece was about. When you do that though, it’s easy for the past and the present to get muddy. A good way to parse out that distinction is to create a “then vs now” chart. It can help you determine how you felt, what you knew then, and how that has changed after the fact so you can remain true to the story you’re telling.
- Don’t be afraid: This is my last piece of advice, but I think it’s very important. When I say don’t be afraid, I don’t just mean don’t be afraid to try. I also mean don’t be afraid to write that painful story; don’t be afraid to type that difficult sentence; don’t be afraid to be real. When you allow yourself to travel to that raw place, it’s true you may encounter tears, but you can also find that gem that could one day become a beautiful piece.
These are just a few of the things I’ve picked up while on this new journey of nonfiction writing. It can be hard at first – in fact, it was very hard for me – but I’ve really enjoyed branching out. I hope these tips have made creative nonfiction seem a little less intimidating, and that they help you as much they’ve helped me. Happy writing!
Edited By Renee Luna