Poetry Lead Editor
Jessica Stiehm has a BA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina in Asheville. She has edited for the Young Eager Writer Beta Reader Program and is the poetry lead editor. Her dream is to write a sapphic southern gothic romance novel, and to learn how to bake bread finally.
What is creative nonfiction?
Creative nonfiction (CNF) is a form of storytelling that employs creative techniques, like the ones found in poetry and fiction, to retell a true story.
Take note– true story. The word “creative” in creative nonfiction is often seen as a license to make up details or embellish facts. This is completely untrue! You can tell compelling and vivid stories without lying or exaggerating. Don’t make stuff up!
Forms of creative nonfiction
…and how to write them
A personal essay is an intimate and personal work of writing. They’re stories about the author’s personal experiences. While they can be standalone stories, you can braid them with metaphors and other narrative techniques to make them more impactful.
The best personal essays are often relatable. Although the story itself should be based on your unique experience, there should be a universal topic buried below your story’s surface.
A universal topic is something that most people can relate to or understand, like falling in love, making a difficult choice, or discovering something new. Experiences that made you feel strong emotions or made you realize something will often make great personal essays.
You can find personal essays in places like Slate, Bustle, and the Boston Globe.
A memoir is a narrative written about an important part of the author’s life.
Memoirs are pretty difficult to write. To write a memoir that deeply touches people, you have to be honest. You have to be vulnerable. Most of us are biased when writing about ourselves. (shocker, right?) The best memoirs reveal difficult moments, tough decisions, and straight-up mistakes. The best memoirs come when the authors dig deep within themselves and reveal the truth of who they are.
Another thing to remember when writing a memoir is to show your personality. Nobody wants to read a stiff and boring retelling of your life. Remember to make jokes and add details that showcase your unique perspective. Putting personality into your writing makes it a more fun and engaging read!
Many people think that memoirs are boring and have no market in the publishing world, but that’s just not true. Memoir is a very popular genre, with the phenomenal success of I’m Glad my Mom Died by Jeanette McCurdy and Becoming by former First Lady Michelle Obama. The best thing about memoir is that it allows you to tell your story to a huge audience– because if you have an interesting tale to tell, people will love reading it.
Literary journalism reports on real events using literary styles and techniques. You can find exemplary examples of literary journalism in publications such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic.
Just like any journalistic writing, the piece should be well-researched and concentrate on what’s going on outside of the author’s personal experiences. Nonfiction writers rely on bucket loads of research, interviews, and observations to construct a detailed piece.
When writing a journalistic piece, you should seek to fill every gap in your knowledge that you can. The information you present in your writing needs to be accurate and well-sourced. Never assume that you know everything about a certain topic.
A great example of literary journalism is the 1966 essay “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” written by Gay Talese and published in Esquire. This essay sparked the New Journalism Movement.
If you’re interested in learning more about literary journalism, you should read influential authors like Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, John McPhee, and Tom Wolfe. If you’re interested in learning more about literary journalism, you should.
Even if you can’t access inspiration for a full-blown fiction piece, nonfiction is a great avenue for you to make an impact and tell a story— whether it's yours or someone else’s.
Want to learn more about being an author and the modern publishing world? Stay tuned to the YEW blog for more pieces like this.