Aha! It’s only been three weeks since my last post. My goal of showing up every two weeks may come to pass after all.
This won’t be too long of a ramble as I’m on deadline. Another goal has been to stop PROCRASTINATING which is my normal go-do position. But I’m allowing myself a wee break before I get back to the tasty topic of lobster for a food story.
I’ve been devouring books as part of a course I’m taking (Creative writing: the personal essay) with Darryl Whetter at Université Sainte Anne. If you ever have a chance to study with him, just do it. I believe he’s giving either a poetry or fiction course during winter term.
But the purpose of this post is to recommend a few books and website related to the craft of writing creative non-fiction. First, you may be asking how to define Creative Nonfiction (CNF)–also referred to as literary nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, and literary journalism or lit-J. The term, according to Lee Gutkin (founder of Creative Nonfiction Journal) simply means “true stories, well told.”
Writers use literary devices found in fiction i.e., even though the stories are true, you’ll find great scenes, strong characters. , dabs of well-placed metaphor and simile, good dialogue etc. There’s a story arc which often includes tension, conflict/resolution, dilemmas to solve, denouements, and insights. And there’s usually a universal truth that the reader can identify with, embrace, and/or learn from.
It’s the toughest genre I’ve ever tackled. And I love it.
As promised, here are my recommendations for reading material related to writing narrative nonfiction in general, and essays and memoirs in particular. I’ve narrowed it down to three books and three online sites.
To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction by Philip Lopate. It’s not only a nuts-and-bolts kind of book loaded with practical advice, it also challenges us to take a stance on ethical issues without being preachy or pedantic. He’s also funny. Bonus: he has a 14-page reading list in the back of the book on every topic under the sun (all related to the craft of writing memoir or essays.)
Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola. Not only do the authors paint a picture of the many forms of creative nonfiction and give examples of what each looks like, they also provide numerous “Try It” writing exercises–springboards to your own stories. They include interesting essay forms like the “hermit crab” and the “braided” essay. I read this book years ago but the third edition (2019) has many new features.
The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction (edited by Dinty W. Moore.) This is a little book with a big cast of writers and editors, each offering their thoughts on an aspect of writing nonfiction, followed by an essay that illuminates exactly what they were talking about. It’s a gem in spite of its uninspiring title. By the way–“flash” to them means anything from 600-2000 words.
Brevity A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction.
A gorgeous site with gorgeous writing and a gorgeous section you’ll find in the menu titled “Craft Essays” … focused on the craft of writing nonfiction. Did I say this was gorgeous? It’s also free.
I have thoughts Kim Pittaway’s blog. It’s a ramble. But way better’n mine. haha. Seriously, Kim heads up the MFA Creative Writing program at Kings College, and I’ve been a fan of hers forever. In her posts, she usually goes both wide and deep on a writing topic, and I learn something with every read.
Marion Roach Smith Marion is the author of The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text For Writing & Life which I’ve mentioned in a previous post although I think you can get more out of her site (20 Top Tips) than you can from her book. If you sign up for her newsletter you’ll get wind of free webinars and they are excellent. Heads up: towards the end of each webinar she does a hard sell for her workshops; they are costly. But you can tune out at that point.
The Sun. Well, if you are counting, this is #4 and I’m over my self-imposed limit. This actually is a print magazine which is delicious but it also has some of its print content online. In fact, during the pandemic, they’ve dropped their paywall. Great bed-time reading. I dream of finding myself on these pages by the time I’m ninety.
OK. My break is over. Would love to hear from you. And please share your favourite books and sites on writing non-fiction.