Creative Nonfiction: Tell Your Stories Well

CreativenonfictionThere is nothing like spending time in a bookstore. When I know exactly what I want, I love the convenience of ordering online, but despite websites’ best efforts to share what others “also ordered,” I rarely discover anything new and exciting that way. In contrast, a perfect Friday night at our house starts with dinner in one of Ann Arbor’s many restaurants, then a stroll to one of our favorite bookstores for browsing (and perhaps a stop for gelato later, to make things really perfect!)

But gelato or no, our hours in bookstores have resulted in a house—and an ipad–full of books we’d never known before meeting them on the shelf. This week I had that experience with a magazine. I’ll admit I rarely look at magazine racks. I can’t keep up with the professional journals that feel like “must” reading, so it is hard to think about adding to the monthly collection. So it was just by happenstance that on my way out the bookstore door my eye was caught by a title, Creative Nonfiction.

Huh? I’ll admit with embarrassment that not only had I never heard of a publication that has been around for more than 20 years, I’d never heard of the term “creative nonfiction” at all. I’ll admit it. I wasn’t an English major. For those as uniformed as I was, creative nonfiction (also known as literary nonfiction) is a genre of non-fiction that uses the techniques of fiction to write about real events, people, and places. It is truth (or at least an understanding of truth), well crafted. It can include such things as travel writing and personal essays—as Creative Nonfiction the magazine states, “True stories. Well told.” And they are. I spend hours enjoying the ideas in the magazine and be beauty with which they are crafted.

It occurred to me that the quarterly magazine would be a fine resource for high school students, and an introduction to a writing form that is rarely discussed. Particularly in this era when the focus is on critical reading and well supported writing, students may come to believe there is nothing between fairy tales and academic research papers. Creative Nonfiction offers a variety of options for class purchases, so that (or your local well-stocked magazine rack) might be a place to begin. If you are interested in more resources for teaching creative (or literary) fiction, Purdue’s wonderful Online Writing Lab (OWL) site offers a variety of materials and strategies for teaching creative nonfiction to students grades 7-12. You also may find the “Five R’s” in Lee Gutkind’s essay on creative nonfiction useful. The Poets and Writers website offers weekly writing prompts—on Thursdays they post creative nonfiction prompts. Imagine a school collection of creative nonfiction—it could be quite wonderful.

If you want to start small, consider the tiny essays in Creative Nonfiction’s cnftweet Twitter feed.

How much fun are these?

Jayne Martin@Jayne_Martin Aug 13

I open the chocolate covered pretzels, promise myself I will only eat the broken ones.The bag topples to the floor. Moral dilemma. #cnftweet

William Reagan@WilliamReagan Aug 14

These brittle, straw lawns are the color of drought, of surrender. They’ve given up on the clouds, as I have. Together we wither. #cnftweet

Amanda Niehaus@amandacniehaus 20h20 hours ago

The radishes sprout like little hairs in my garden, pushing up to meet the rain as if that’s all there is to living. #cnftweet

Think about students crafting personal essays in 120 characters. I’d love to read them. If you try it, please share.



6 thoughts on “Creative Nonfiction: Tell Your Stories Well

  1. Reblogged this on Writilin and commented:
    My pet hate: when people take a fascinating subject or a startling discovery, and present it such as would make sheep count more sheep.
    My pet love: when someone grabs an ordinary story and shares it with passion and attention to all the nuances of extraordinary.
    Love, love, creative nonfiction.


  2. I, too, discovered the CNF magazine about six months ago and have found the chosen essays to be some of the funest I’ve read anywhere. I’ve been working on a couple drafts about writing in the CNF genre and this quarterly journal will be prominently featured as one of my resources. You did a great job on this post.


      • Indeed! Even young students can benefit from learning about tge creative nonfiction genre.

        My granddaughter is in 4th grade and her class started writing personal narratives, conducting interviews and writing nonfiction ‘books’ in 2nd grade. I am thrilled she is getting such an early start with CNF. Her life will be richer for it.


  3. Pingback: Before They Were Our Mothers | creativiteach

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s