This is a guest article by Indiana Lee. If you want to submit a guest article of your own, be sure to read the guest article guidelines.
It can be easy to get stuck in a rut with your writing. Whether you’re usually focused on straight reportage or speculative fiction, you may find yourself creatively unchallenged at times. This is often because getting comfortable in routines, subjects, and styles is the enemy of innovation. It’s worth taking a little time to shake up your practice and explore something different.
Creative nonfiction writing is a valuable tool in this regard. In essence, this is taking factual material and using it to tell an engaging story. It blends the committed scrutiny of journalism with the imaginative power of narrative storytelling. You’ll also find you can apply a variety of formats from blog posts to graphic novels.
So let’s take a closer look at creative nonfiction writing. How can you engage with the process and make the most of your experiences?
Your creative blocks can feed off of the drudgery of your routine. Yes, it’s important to recognize how developing a writing habit can be a great tool for productivity. But it can lose its efficacy over time. The more you rely on it, the less you can independently grow as an artist or craftsperson. You need to push beyond what you know you’re capable of.
Treat your creative nonfiction explorations as a way to extend your reach in this regard. Approach it as a form of stretch assignment. This refers to a project you already know is outside of your current skills and expertise and is capable of challenging you. These difficult short-term projects have the benefits of bolstering your resiliency and disrupting the familiar. You can also adapt the process to your current projects by taking a creative nonfiction approach to your journalism assignments or applying realism in your fiction.
The key is to get a little scared and uncertain. Tackle subjects you have no real knowledge of and use narrative techniques alien to you. There’s a great quote from David Bowie that explores the value of this. In a 1997 interview, he said, “Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”
There is a tendency to think of nonfiction as a strict retelling of the events that have occurred. There is indeed a duty as a writer to represent the facts accurately and honestly. However, where creative nonfiction can be particularly powerful is it opens you up to the possibility where there are not only facts to be told but also stories to be unearthed.
In some ways, it’s helpful to treat creative nonfiction as a form of narrative archaeology. You’re digging away at the recorded sources of the true-life events to reveal the stories beneath. It doesn’t matter if your subject is technical, there are still going to be humans at the heart of it. Wherever there are people, there are stories. Every scientific discovery and each financial crash is the product of human thought, behavior, and emotions. When you can find these you have the opportunity to create a nonfiction piece that is more engaging and fascinating.
Developing these skills will help you in other areas of your writing practice. If you usually specialize in fiction, it serves as a reminder that there is a story driving every action from even your most minor characters. This can help you in creating more believable and rounded roles. If you are usually focused on reportage, this approach gives you tools to dig deeper into events to find new ways of presenting issues to your readers.
Your comfort zone can put you in something of a closeted position. The same activities performed the same ways day after day limit your perspective. This can make it difficult to step outside of your personal viewpoint and engage with an idea from more interesting and enriching angles. Creative nonfiction writing can shake up your usual laser-focused position on issues and look at both your subject and even your craft from a fresh perspective.
This isn’t just a practical and creative benefit. It can also be a vital boost to your mental wellness. The grind of familiar actions can contribute to your work dissatisfaction and even lead to burnout. It’s not unusual to find you’re experiencing regular afternoon energy slumps as a result of this stress, alongside poor sleep and dehydration. Combined with activities like regular exercise, exploring new avenues of creativity could help combat this fatigue. The new perspectives you gain may help you become more enthusiastic about your work and be more energized in your activities.
You can also find creative nonfiction is an incredible tool for developing empathy. The process compels you to consider lives in a more connected and personal way. You’ll be providing vivid descriptions of what real-life figures may have been seeing or feeling. There will be times you may need to think in the same way another person did to understand and write about their motivations. Building this sense of empathy by exploring new perspectives is not just valuable as a writing tool. It also provides you with interpersonal skills you can use to navigate your life.
Creative nonfiction writing can open up avenues to improve the quality of your craft and your overall relationship with it. When you’re bold enough to stretch beyond the boundaries of comfort, you have the potential to truly discover enriching experiences. It forces you to think about your writing in new ways and encourages you to develop personal attributes that have immense value. Yes, it’s difficult and there’s certainly no guarantee you’ll write the next incredible autobiography. But you’ll always take something positive away from the experience. Is that not worthwhile taking the time to explore?
About the author: Indiana Lee lives in the Northwest and has a passion for the environment and wellness. She draws her inspiration from nature and makes sure to explore the outdoors regularly with her two dogs. Indiana has experience in owning and operating her own business. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @indianalee3.