As an accomplished writer, professor, and renown expert in the genre of Creative Non-Fiction, there is no better mentor than Lee Gutkind to turn to when seeking writing advice. Regardless if you’re just beginning or have a few good years under your belt, listen up! In his essay, titled, “The Five R’s of Creative Non-Fiction”, he identifies 5 critical elements of Creative Non-Fiction. Below you will find a summary of these 5 elements.
When constructing your personal essay or memoir, whatever your piece of Creative Non-Fiction may be, the absolute most vital component, and it’s most critical rule, is regarding factual content. It must be based on personal experience, real people, and real events. Write honestly. At no point will it be acceptable to invent or change the facts of your story to improve or increase the drama within. In short, the events of what happened must be true, and even more importantly, verifiable. If you’re writing a story about the events of your childhood, a vital character should not be able to petition your claim as incorrect or inauthentic.
Taking the time to thoroughly reflect on the events in your story is very important. In fact, this is why it is recommended to outline your work before you begin writing. Sit down, reflect, and take notes on each event – it will make the writing process that much smoother! As I will mention in the next paragraph, research is vital to the writing process, and you will be spending a great deal of time analyzing the information gathered, as well as assessing your thoughts on what you’ve collected. Your reader wants to hear your personal thoughts, they want to learn more about your life – they’re interested in your perspective, but that doesn’t mean these opinions should not be well-researched and well-developed.
What sets Creative Non-Fiction apart from other forms of Creative Writing is the journalistic component of the genre. This is why research is imperative. Your story must have a topic or central theme, and you must become an expert on this topic or theme. Use facts to support your claims. It is also acceptable to complete secondary research by interviewing a friend or family member present in your story. This is a fantastic idea because it gives the author a chance to verify dialogue taken place between family members. Another great suggestion is to review social media accounts, as well as personal journals or blog entries.
A good writer reads. A lot. They read, write, then read again. Similarly to any other field, it is without question that continuous training and retraining is required in order to stay ahead of the game. This is how we continue to move forward and ensure our writing is always improving. What does this entail for a Creative Non-Fiction writer? Perhaps we tirelessly engage in every guide published about our genre. That is, of course, not before we raid the new releases display at our local Barns & Noble! We owe it to the personal stories brewing in our hearts and minds – so, yes, please, read like their lives depend on it.
The only thing you’ll do more than reading is, of course, writing. Mastering your craft requires practice. You need to be neck-deep in your drafts. Can you put in the work? Can you be consistent? Can you build a habit?
What I’m trying to say is: Write. Each day, religiously. Make writing a form of worship. This is how you find your voice. Creative Non-Fiction often starts with a journal entry. The best way to start your memoir or personal essay is to simply start. Just write. Write your story, raw and uninhibited.
The best writing you will ever produce is what was written without restraint.
This is why I suggest starting in a place without rules. Heck, the actual writing part should be fun – an adventure. You should be having a ball. There should be fireworks, frankly.
It’s the editing that’s work. It’s coming back later to make sense of it all – when you need to start considering the reader, that’s when you actually clock-in.
Still, the beauty of writing is you get to become better by simply doing what you love.
Remember, you can always go back, with a red pen, and make it better.
Each word you put to paper is a step in the right direction.