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Publishing of Book:The Art and Craft of Creative Writing

Art-and-Craft-of-Creative-Writing_cover Thanks for visiting my blog for  the past four years. During that time, I’ve read and learned about the writing life, poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction. I have read many books, learned a great deal, and written a couple hundred craft essays. In January of this year, I decided to write a book based on what I have learned. And so from April until a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a how-to creative writing eBook. It is called “The Art and Craft of Creative Writing.” It is based on what I have learned. To purchase the book, visit http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00F4VOYRK

The book is more than 400 pages long and includes the following chapters chapters:

 Table of Content

  • About the Author 3
  • Introduction. 4
  • THE WRITING LIFE. 7
  • The Art and Craft of Writing. 8
  • The Writing Life: Journal Writing. 16
  • The Writing Life: Reading Like a Writer 19
  • The Writing Life: Learning to Write Creatively. 24
  • The Writing Life: Finding Inspiration to Write. 29
  • Ten Myths about Writing. 33
  • Writer’s Block. 36
  • The Writing Life: Developing Your Writing Voice. 39
  • Blogging as a Form of Creative Writing. 44
  • The Writing Process. 49
  • Writing the Opening. 54
  • Writing the Ending. 57
  • Revising Your Work. 60
  • WRITING FREE VERSE POETRY.. 65
  • Poetry: An Overview.. 66
  • Free Verse Poetry: An Overview.. 74
  • The Title of a Poem.. 80
  • Finding Inspiration and a Subject for Your Poem.. 83
  • Writing Free Verse: Stanza, Line, Syntax. 87
  • Writing Free Verse: Word Choice. 93
  • Writing Free Verse: Adding Sensory Details. 96
  • Writing Free Verse: Using Figurative Language. 100
  • Writing Free Verse: Adding Sound Effects. 104
  • Writing Free Verse: Meter and Rhythm.. 108
  • Writing the Prose Poem.. 113
  • Learning to Write Free Verse Poetry. 116
  • WRITING SHORT FICTION.. 123
  • Writing Short Fiction: An Overview.. 124
  • Writing Short Fiction: Creating the Setting. 130
  • Writing Short Fiction: The Plot 134
  • Writing Short Fiction: Character and Characterization. 139
  • Writing Short Fiction: Dialogue. 144
  • Writing Short Fiction: Point of View.. 148
  • Writing Short Fiction: The Theme. 152
  • Writing Short Fiction: Literary Techniques and Poetic Devices. 155
  • Writing Short Fiction: Voice and Writing Style. 161
  • Writing Short Fiction: Beginning and Ending. 166
  • How to Write a Short Story. 170
  • WRITING CREATIVE NONFICTION.. 176
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: An Overview.. 177
  • The Ethics of Creative Nonfiction. 184
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: Using Humour in Your Writing. 189
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Personal Narrative Essay. 194
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Opinion Essay. 202
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Meditative Essay. 209
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Lyrical Essay. 215
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Segmented Essay. 219
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Literary Journalism Essay. 224
  • The Literary Journalism Essay: On Popular Culture. 229
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: Narrative History. 237
  • The Literary Journalism Essay: The Global Village. 243
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Profile/Biography Sketch. 248

For anyone who desires to embrace the writing life, write free verse poetry, write short fiction, write creative nonfiction, such as the personal essays, and more, this book is for you. It is filled with advice, tips, suggestions, how-to explanations, and more. You can buy it at Amazon for $7.00. To purchase the book, visit:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00F4VOYRK I will not be making any more posts to this blog. It is time for another project. Good luck in your writing endeavors. Dave Hood,B.A.

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Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Lyrical Essay

Monday July 22, 2013
By Dave Hood

The lyrical essay is a subgenre of the personal essay. It is based on images and ideas of a particular theme. For instance, Eula Biss crafts a lyrical essay about pain called “The Pain Scale,” which has appeared in Harper’s magazine. The writer of the literary essay constructs images with sensory details. The writer also uses poetic language, such as alliteration and assonance. The lyrical essay combines both prose and poetry, sometimes found objects of writing to create the lyrical essay. The essay is created with fragments of details, and each fragmented is separated with white space, asterisk, or number. The writer presents questions and relies on the reader to provide the answers. The lyrical essay encourages the reader to ponder and meditate while reading the essay.

In this article, I will discuss the lyrical essay. The following will be covered:
• Definition and features of the lyrical essay
• Categories of lyrical essays-prose poem, braided essay, collage, and “hermit crab” essay
• Techniques for writing the lyrical essay
• Creative Writing Style
• Additional reading

Definition of a Lyrical Essay

The lyrical essay is a type of personal essay that combines both prose and poetry. It is often crafted like a prose poem. The writer uses a series of image or ideas, not narrative or argument, to craft the essay. The image can be of a person, place, thing, or object. The idea can be anything. The writer attempts to recreate the experience and evoke emotion in the reader by using sensory details, description that expresses what the writer sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches, and feels. The lyrical essay is not organized as a narrative, with one event unfolding after the next. Nor is it organized in chronological order. Instead the writer creates a series of fragmented images using poetic language, such as alliteration, assonance, internal rhyme, and rhythm.

In 1997, The Seneca Review created the lyrical essay. This literary journal, publishing twice a year, defines the literary essay as follows:
• Combines prose and poetry
• Constructed from a distillation of ideas
• Mentions but doesn’t expound
• Suggestive but not exhaustive
• Relies on associations, imagery, and connotation
• Makes reference to other genres, such as film, music, literature
• Arranged in fragments as a mosaic
• Based on stories that are metaphors
• Based on intimate voice
• Crafted with lyrical language

The lyrical essay is usually fragmented. The writer creates a series of images using sensory details. Each image represents a fragment of detail, which are separated by double spaces, asterisk, or numbers. It is also suggestive. The writer implicitly suggests meaning. It is meditative. The reader ponders the words and emotion expressed in those words. It is often inconclusive. The writer provides no final point for the reader to take away. If you are interested in reading examples of a lyrical essay, visit The Seneca Review.

Categories of the Lyrical Essay

Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola, in “Tell IT Slant,” identify four categories of lyrical essay:
• The prose poem or flash nonfiction essay
• The collage essay
• The braided essay
• The “Hermit Crab” essay

The Prose Poem. It is crafted like prose but reads like a poem. It is written in sentences, not verse. The writer uses poetic devices, such as imagery, symbolism, simile, metaphor to create a prose poem of one or more paragraphs. The writer also uses literary prose by using alliteration, assonance, and internal rhyme.

The Collage Essay. Like the art collage, the collage of a lyrical essay is based on a collection of fragments from different sources. For instance, prose, poetry, quotation might be combined. The use of juxtaposition is used. The writer separates each section with white space, an asterisk, subtitles, epigraph.

The Braided Essay. It relies on the lyrical examination of a particular topic. The writer uses fragments of detail from different sources . According to Brenda Miller in “Tell IT Slant”, the writer fragments the essay into separate pieces that repeat throughout the essay. There is a weaving of different ideas, such as quotations, descriptions, facts, lists, poet language, imagery. This essay also allows for an outside voice to provide details, along with the writer’s voice and experiences. The purpose of the outside voice is to shadow the writers voice, according to Brenda Miller in “Tell IT Slant.”

The “Hermit Crab” Essay. This type of lyrical essay is created from the shell of another, like the hermit crab that lives the life within the shell of another mollusk or snail. It borrows from fiction, poetry, description, personal narrative, instructions, questions and answers, diary, itinerary, table of contents, songs, recipes, collection of favorite CDs, that are used as a shell to construct something new.

For additional information about the lyrical essay, you can read “Tell It Slant”, a short text on writing creative nonfiction, focusing on the personal essay, and its various subgenres. To read examples of the lyrical essay, visit the Seneca Review.

The lyrical essay has these features:
1. The writer crafts sentences that have rhythm, like a prose poem. Paces and stressed syllables determine rhythm. Iambic pentameter is the most common type of rhythm. It is based on a pattern of five iambic feet. Yet, writers often just count the number of stressed syllables in a line to determine the rhythmic structure of their prose. A short sentence speeds up the pace. A long sentence slows down the pace.
2. The writer creates lyrical prose that sound musical by using alliteration, assonance, and internal rhyme.
3. The writer constructs the essay with fragments of detail. Each fragment is separated by white space, asterisk, title, or number.
4. The essay is often inclusive. Instead the writer focuses on evoking emotion in the reader, and the reader must draw his or her own conclusion.

Writers who have popularized the lyrical essay are:
• Eula Biss, author of “No Man’s Land” and many lyrical essays, including “The Pain Scale” which can be read online. (Conduct a Google Search)
• David Shields, author of the book “Reality Hunger.”
• John D’Agata, author of the book “The Lifespan of Fact”
• The Seneca Review, a literary journal that publishes lyrical essays.

Techniques for Crafting the Lyrical Essay

The lyrical essay is a subgenre of the personal essay. The writer creates the essay in prose using lyrical language. As well the writer uses an intimate voice, often by using the first person POV (I). Writers can use the following techniques to create a lyrical essay:
• Poetic language. The writer relies on alliteration and assonance and internal rhyme. Sometimes the writer will create fragments of prose poetry.
• Figurative language. The writer make comparisons with metaphor and simile.
• Imagery. The writer creates images of people, places, things, objects, ideas with sensory details, prose that appeal to the writer’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing.
• Connotation. The writer expresses meaning through connotation, not explicit expression of the details.
• Questions. The writer poses questions to the reader who must answer them.
• Juxtaposition. The writer often juxtaposes different fragments of detail, which have implied meaning.
• Association. The writer expresses meaning through association of different things by using simile and metaphor.
• Prose and poetry. The writer crafts sentences in prose using poetic language and rhythm.
• Reference. The lyrical essay often mentions something without elaborating.
• Rhythm. The writer creates emotion by using rhythmic prose.
• Fragmented. White space or an asterisk or subtitles or epigraph are used by the writer to separate each sections of the essay.
• Intimate POV. The writer often write in the first person POV (I) and shares intimate details, such as emotional truth. It answers the question: Who does it feel?
• Inconclusive ending. The lyrical essay often ends without answering the questions posed in the essay.

The writer creates a lyrical essay based on some theme. For instance, Eula Biss crafts an essay on “The Pain Scale.” The themes are pain and how to measure pain. She crafts this lyrical essay by using poetic language and rhythmic sentences. She writers in the first person POV (I) and feelings of emotion. She writes fragments of detail, and each fragmented is separated by white space or asterisk or number. The meaning is constructed by the accumulation of detail.

Creative Writing Style

To write the lyrical essay, use the following writing style:

1. Tone. A friendly and conversational tone.
2. Word choice. Fresh and original, short rather than long, familiar instead of unfamiliar words.
3. Lyrical language. Use of alliteration and assonance and rhythm.
4. Sentence variety. Use of a variety of sentence patterns, such as the balanced sentence, the cumulative sentence, and the periodic sentence.
5. Intimate POV. Use of first person POV (I) and sharing of personal thoughts and feelings and reflections.

Additional Reading

To learn more about writing the lyrical essay, read the following:
• Hall of Fame by John D’Agata
• Plain Water by Anne Carson
• The Art of the Personal Essay, edited by Philip Lopate
• Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine
• Tell It Slant by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
• Words Overflown by Stars, Edited by David Jauss
• The Seneca Review (http://www.hws.edu/academics/senecareview/lyricessay.aspx )
• “Essaying the Thing: An Imagist Approach to the Lyrical Essay” by Joey Franklin. (The Writer’s Chronicle magazine, September 2012)
• Reality Hunger by David Shields
• No Man’s Land by Eula Biss
• The Life Span of Fact by John D’Agasta

Writing in the Digital World

Dave Hood

The Internet is a gold mine for writers.  You can find countless resources to improve your writing and advance your writing practise. For instance, on the Internet, you can do the following:

  • Find writing prompts that inspire your creativity
  • Search for freelance writing jobs
  • Create a free blog where you can post your writing and create a writing platform
  • Join an online writing community/ writing groups
  • Find out how to submit to writing contests or literary publications such as Tin House
  • Read and learn how to write poetry, short stories, personal essays, and more
  • Enroll in online creative writing courses
  • Purchase books on creative writing
  • Create a web presence and writing platform with social media
  • Learn how to self-publish your fiction or creative nonfiction
  • Read poetry, short fiction, personal essays from popular literary journals

In this post, I’ll identify some of the many websites that you can use to find this information.

Writing Prompts

The purpose of a writing prompt is to provide inspiration and help you explore and practise your writing. You can use a writing prompt to kick start a freewriting session of 10 to 20 minutes, writing about anything that is associated with the prompt. If you searching for writing prompts to inspire you, check out these websites:

  • First 50 Words  ( http://www.first50.wordpress.com )  The author of this blog, Virginia Debolt, provides you with a daily writing prompt for your writing practise. She suggests that you write ” often, write about anything, everything, what you see, what you learn, what you’re thinking, what you read.”
  • Easy Street Prompts (www.easystreetprompts.blogspot.com) On this site you will find video prompts, photograph prompts, and word prompts.

Creating a Free Blog

Would you like to create a blog, where you can post your writing and create a Web presence?

Here are the best free blogging platforms:

  1. WordPress- http://www.wordpress.com
  2. Blogger-www.blogger.com
  3. Twitter- http://www.twitter.com (micro-blogging)
  4. Tumblr-www.tumblr.com  (micro-blogging)

These blogs are easy to setup and post content to. Creating a blog is an easy way to establish a Web presence, share your writing, and build a writing platform.

Join a Writing Community

The online writing community offers many services to writers. You’ll create a profile and then  post your poetry, short fiction, personal essays, and so forth. You can also join a writing group, obtain free reviews, and free advice. And you can join various forums, where you can discuss different aspects of writing with others. Many of these online writing communities offer free online courses and advertise writing contests. Here are a few popular online writing communities that you should consider joining:

Freelance Writing

Are you searching for a freelance writing job? Here are some good sites to find work:

For freelance writing jobs in your area, use Google to search for websites in your area.

Enrolling in Online Creative Writing Courses

If you are interested in taking a course in creative writing, such writing personal essays, poetry, short stories, screen writing—- there are a myriad of universities in Canada and the United States offering online courses and certificates in creative writing. This means that you can study from your own home, instead of having to fight traffic to attend a lecture.

Providing you have an Internet connection and credit card, you can enroll in online education courses from anywhere in the world. For instance, all universities and educations institutions I visited on the Web offer a plethora of creative writing courses, which you can take online. For instance,  the University of Toronto’s Continuing Educations program offers online courses in creative writing poetry, fiction, and screenwriting courses.

There are countless educational institutions around the world where you can take creative writing courses online. Here are five places to checkout:

Resources for Writers

Creative Writing

One of the best sources of information is the Poetry and Writer website, a print-based magazine that also have a Web presence.  All writers should visit this site on a regular basis. Here is what you can learn on this website:

  • Find our who is offering writing contents and competitions.
  • Find out where to contact a literary agent via the Literary Agents database.
  • Obtain details about contact information, submission guidelines, and the types of writing small press publish by accessing the Small Press Database
  • Discover where you can attend a writing conference, workshop, or residency
  • Search for jobs in the arts, writing, publishing. (Some are Internships, which don’t pay, and most are in the United States.)
  • Obtain advice for writers about writing contests, literary agents, publishing your book with the small press or larger publisher, book promotion and publicity, MFA programs, literary organizations that you can join.

Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction Literary Journals

There are many online/print literary journals where you can read fiction, poetry, personal essays. Check out these Literary magazines:

Please note that these are just a few of the popular literary journals that you can read.

Poetry

If you are interested in reading poetry by the best poets from around the world, obtain how-to advice on how to write poetry, learn poetry terms, techniques, and genre, read articles about poetry,  visit the following:

Literary Nonfiction

Are you interested in reading creative nonfiction, such as short personal essays of less than 1,000 words? You can read them at the Brevity, an online literary journal.

Purchasing Books on Creative Writing

Do you live some place where you don’t have regular access to creative writing books? You can purchase them online at the following:

  • Amazon.ca
  • Amazon.com

In fact, most of the books on how to write poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction that I’ve used  were purchased online at Amazon. Here are  a few of the books I recommend that you can purchase at Amazon, books you won`t find in your local bookstore:

Creative Nonfiction

  • Truth of the Matter: The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction by Dinty Moore
  • You Can`t Make this Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything In Between by Lee Gutkind
  • Story Craft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction by Jack Hart
  • Creative Nonfiction: A Guide to Form, Content, and Style by Eileen Pollack
  • To Tell the Truth: Practise and Craft in Narrative Nonfiction by Connie D. Griffin

Craft of Writing

  • Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser (Writing Creative Nonfiction)
  • The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life by Priscilla. (A great book for learning how to write creative nonfiction, especially the various forms of the personal essay.
  • Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale
  • Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway. (Everything you require to write creatively, such as showing and telling, writing with sensory imagery, similes, metaphors….

Fiction

  • Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway (Includes how to instruction, exercises, and anthology of short stories)
  • On Writing Short Stories, edited by Tom Bailey ( Two parts: How to write and an anthology of short stories)

Poetry

  • Poetry Repair Manual by Ted Kooser
  • Writing the Life Poetic by Sage Cohen
  • The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio (Excellent book to learn how to write poetry)
  • The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayers
  • Creating Poetry by John Drury
  • In the Palm of Your Hands by Steve Kowell

Create a Web Presence with Social Media

Do you want to create a Web presence? Here are a few popular social media platforms where you can create a profile, network with others, and promote your writing skills, expertise, and work

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Google +
  • Facebook

Learn How to Publishing an E-Book

Are you interested in self-publishing? A great place to begin is at the Self Publishing Review. At this website, you can obtain advice and find resources on self-publishing. You can join a social network, read their online magazine, and find out how to self-publish. The Self-Publishing Review also provides book cover design and an e-book publishing service. It can design a cover for your book for a  fee.  It can also convert your book of fiction or nonfiction to an XHTML file, the format of an e-book, for a fee. (For a book of 200 pages, the cost is $200)  And then you can upload it to Apple iBooks, Barnes and Nobles Pubit, Kindle, or Kobo-Self-Publishing. To find out more, check out The Self Publishing Review .

Another self-publishing service to look into is Outskirts Press. It offers the following services:

  • Copy editing
  • Cover Design
  • Private Label ISBN
  • Publishing packages
  • Marketing solutions

To find other useful writing resources, you can carry out a search with Google.

The Writer’s Life: Establishing a Writing Routine

Wednesday, October-31-12

by Dave Hood

Most great writer’s have a routine. That is what I’ve learned by reading Margaret Atwood’s “Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing,” Steven King’s “On Writing: A Memoir on Craft,” and Elizabeth Berg’s “Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True.”

Writer Elizabeth Berg suggests that your writing routine should be “as personal and as varied” as your routines for anything else.

If your lifestyle changes, so will your writing routine. If you are a student at university, taking courses in creative writing, you’ll probably have lots of time to read and write. But, if you are working full-time, and attempting to write a novel, or short story, you’ll have to do it in your leisure time, perhaps at night or on the weekend.

Berg suggests that you begin your writing day by reading the writing you completed yesterday, and then edit it before writing something new. Why? The break from writing will provide you with fresh insight and a new perspective, perhaps even some new material.

Other writers suggest that you complete the first draft before beginning any sort of editing. Why? Editing can slow down the process of putting words from your mind on the page. Editing can also stifle the creative spirit. I always write the first draft before editing. And I always take a break for a few days before revising my work. The break allows me to discover new material and see my work from a fresh perspective.

Berg also suggests that when you are completing a writing project, continue to read unrelated material, such as other books, magazines, poetry, newspapers,  to help you continually fill your creative spirit with new ideas.

How long should you write for? Berg writes for three or four hours in the morning, and then stops. Other writer’s do the same. Most writers don’t write for long stretches of time, such as 9,10,11 hours. Why? Their mind gets tired, they are unable to think  clearly, they are unable to dust off authentic and original ideas from memory or their imagination. They are unable to write at their best with specific details, fresh similes, surprising metaphors.

As part of the routine, you should also write in a quiet  and inspirational place, some location that allows you to think. Some writers set up a writing room. In their writing room, there is a desk, chair, bookcase of favorite books, a dictionary, thesaurus, perhaps some quiet music on the stereo, art on the walls, and photographs perched on the desk.  Other writes craft a piece of writing in their bedroom, lying in bed. Many writers carve out something in a quiet cafe, where there’s the hustle and bustle of people, and soothing music.

Part of your routine also requires that you choose the “writing tools” that inspire you and allow you to quickly express your thoughts on the page, including a pen or coloured pens. A notebook. A writing Journal. A computer, such as tablet or laptop. Most creative writing instructors tell you to keep a writing journal, and write in it each day with a pen or a set of coloured pens. Most writers will also tell you to carry a notebook, so that when an interesting idea pops into your mind, you can capture it.

To write a poem, short story, novel, article, anything well, you require discipline. To be disciplined, you need a routine.  Some writers like to write in the morning, other writers like to write at night when it’s dark. Many writers are only able to write in their leisure time, such as on the weekend, when they don’t have to work at their 9 to 5 day job.

If you truly want to become a good writer and publish, you must have discipline. Discipline requires that you make writing a high priority. And so, if you are a person who writes a “To-do-list” each day, you should make writing your number 1 priority, or very close to the top of your list of things to do. As well, instead of writing when you feel like it, you must establish a schedule and write at specific time of day. This helps to establish a routine. If you do not have time to write, you must find time. For instance, you could write for 15 minutes on your lunch, write for 15 minutes on your coffee break, writer while you ride the bus home from work… Discipline as a writer requires that you organize your life around your writing.

The act of writing makes you a writer. Writing requires that you do it regularly. Establishing a routine is the best way to write each day or on some schedule. Establishing a routine enables you to learn to write, to experiment with your writing, to become a writer, to write creatively like Hemingway, Alice Munro, Stephen King. Establishing a writing routine allows you to complete projects and to publish your writing dreams, rather than leave your writing aspirations to chance.

If you’d like to learn more about the writing life, I recommend that you read:

  • Margaret Atwood’s “Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing”
  • Steven King’s “On Writing: A Memoir on Craft”
  • Elizabeth Berg’s “Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True.”

Each of these books is an entertaining read and provides insight into the writing life, as well as great advice on the art and craft of writing.

Writing Creative Nonfiction: Finding the Big Ideas to Write About

Dave Hood

What are big ideas? They are topics or issues that are important to a country and the world.  They are also in the public consciousness. As a creative nonfiction writer, not only can you write about personal experiences, such as a personal essay or memoir, you can also write about public experiences— events, issues, topics–that are important to humanity. Popular topics include terrorism, war, the economy, the environment, social justice, medicine, well-being.

Pick up a major newspaper or popular magazine, such as The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic, and you’ll be able to reader essays about big ideas. Each week, The New Yorker publishes one or more literary journalism essays that deal with “big ideas,” important topics or issues that the public is aware of. In this week’s edition of the New Yorker (October 1st, 2012),  Jerome Groopman, writes an interesting piece called “Sex and The Superbug,” in which he illuminates the reader about  gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease, and how it has become resistant to antibiotics.This week’s cover of Time magazine has a portrait of former President Bill Clinton and a title that reads: 5 ideas that are changing the world.

As well, check out the latest literary journal publications, such as Witness, Epiphany, Granta, you’ll read literary journalism essays about “big ideas.” For instance, Granta’s summer issue has a theme about “medicine.” It’s winter issue deals with “war.” The spring issue of Witness deals with “disaster.”

The goal is to educate, inform, and entertain by writing a compelling narrative. When writing about big ideas, the form is usually an article or literary journalism essay, structured as a narrative. In “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up, author Lee Gutkind writes: “The ideal creative nonfiction piece is one where the pendulum stops somewhere in the middle—a public subject with an intimate and personal spin.”

How do you go about finding the big ideas to write about? Here are a few suggestions.

The Idea Notebook

The best way to find ideas to write about is to stay informed. You can do this by reading the newspaper, by reading popular magazines, such as Time and the New Yorker, by reading popular creative nonfiction books, by watching the news, conducting research on the Internet.

Once you find an interesting idea, make note of it in an idea notebook. If the article is in a newspaper, clip it out, and save it in the Idea Notebook. Always answer the question? Why is the article interesting. Also, write a summary or identify the significant points the writer makes in the article. If the essay is published in a magazine, save the edition of the magazine. GutKind, In You Can’t Make this Stuff Up, suggests that you also write down “what angle interests you” and “what the big idea is.” When you run out of topics to write about, refer to your Idea Book.

Finding Good Stories to Write About

Writing creative nonfiction is about telling true stories. In the text, Telling True Stories, Jan Wallin explains how a writer can identify good topics to write about. 

  1. Define your focus. Is the place important? Is the person important? Or is the action important?
  2. Does your story have action? There must be action–a series of events—that make up the story.
  3. You must have access to the person who are important players in the narrative, so you can conduct an interview. Otherwise, you should find another story to write about.
  4. Define the time frame. Do you intend to write a narrative based on a short time, such as a day, or a long time, such as many weeks, or a year or more?
  5. What does the subject learn about himself or herself? Does the person experience some epiphany?
  6. When would it be worth going deeper? Where is the close-up on a story? Where does mystery remain?
  7. What truism is being presented in the news? Does going in the opposite direction give you a new story from a different perspective?
  8. What is the big idea? A bid idea always includes a “universal truth.”
  9. Research the context of the story. Social conditions. History. Economics climate.
  10. What are the enduring topics in the public consciousness? The recession? Unemployment? Poverty? Racism? Discrimination? War? Social Justice? Crime? Gun control? Sexual Abuse?

A few Tips

Before deciding to research and write about a big idea, answer these questions:

  1. Find out what has already been written on the subject. How? Do some research on the Internet.
  2. Before writing the essay about a “big topic”, ask yourself: Why is this important to readers?
  3. Can the big idea be crafted around an narrative? In other words, are there a series of events that make up the story?
  4. Next, ask yourself: What is the universal truth?
  5. Do you have access to eye witnesses, victims, and subject matter experts? If you don’t, avoid writing the story.
  6. Understand the “emotional truth” of the story. How do people feel about the big idea? Does he/she agree? Disagree? Have some other view than the prevailing wisdom of the day?

Resources

For more information on how to write about “big ideas”, read the following:

  • Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writer’s Guide, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call
  • You Can’t Make this Stuff Up: The Complete Guide To Writing Creative Nonfiction from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between, by Lee Gutkind.

Writing Creative Nonfiction: Beginning and Ending

By Dave Hood

The most important sentence is often the first one. It is often called the hook or lead.  If it doesn’t inspire the reader to proceed to the second sentence, and then the third….your personal essay, or memoir, or any other form of creative writing is dead. That is what William Zinsser tells us in “On Writing Well”, a how-to guide for writing creative nonfiction.

Your opening must capture the reader’s attention and motivate them to read your entire piece of writing. You do this by writing a compelling lead, opening, or entry point.

There are many ways to create an entry point, or lead, or beginning for a piece of creative nonfiction. One way is to just begin “telling the story.” Sometimes writers begin with a “quotation” or “interesting fact.” Another way is to ask a question. For instance: More than 20 million people have purchased Fifty Shades of Gray. What does this suggest about women?

And once you’ve written your piece of creative nonfiction, you must end with a bang.  Otherwise, the reader is inclined to be disappointed. The lousy ending is like a film that ends poorly. And so, you’ll want to end with a one final point, which the reader can take away and ponder.

In this article, I’ll discuss the following:

  • How to write an opening or lead or entry point into a story
  • How to end a piece of creative nonfiction

Writing an Opening

As mentioned in the introduction, there are many ways to begin writing a piece of creative nonfiction. Some writers begin by telling a story. That’s what Malcolm Gladwell did when he wrote “Slackers” for the New Yorker magazine. (July 30th, 2012)

William Zinsser, author of the splendid writing-advice book, “On Writing Well”, identifies a few other ways. You can begin with:

  • A question
  • A quotation
  • A fascinating fact
  • An Anecdote

Laurie Oliver, author of the how-to book, “The Story Within,”  identifies many other ways to begin:

  • With a list
  • With a memory
  • With a scene
  • With a reminiscence
  • With a reflection
  • With an assertion
  • With a diagnosis
  • With a general statement

One of the simplest ways to begin is by asking a question. For instance, what made Andy Warhol a fascinating artist? What was his contribution to the world of art?

Another easy way to begin is with a list. For example, here are the reasons why I write…

Another is to begin with a quotation. For instance, “Patience is the companion of wisdom.”—St. Augustine.

An interesting fact can also introduce a good piece of creative writing. Writer David Remnick, the author of the profile “We Are Alive: Bruce Springsteen at Sixty-Two” (July 30th, 2012) begins with an interesting fact:

Nearly half a century ago, when Elvis Presley was filming “Harum Scarum and “Help!” was on the charts, a moody, father-haunted, yet uncannily charismatic Shore rat named Bruce Springsteen was building a small reputation around New Jersey as a guitar player in a band called the Castiles.

Usually, the form of creative nonfiction you are sitting down to write will define the how to begin. For instance, a personal-narrative essay will usually begin at the beginning of the story. A meditative essay often begins with a question. For instance, What is the meaning of life? A travel essay can begin with a memorable scene. A literary journalism essay often begins with an interesting fact, generalization, assertion.

Writing the Ending

Writing a good ending is as important as writing a compelling opening. You need to know when to end and how to end a story. You should give as much thought to your ending as your opening. That is what William Zinsser tells us. There are several ways to end. The personal narrative usually ends when the story ends, often with some epiphany. Some writer’s end by referring back to the beginning of the story.  If your entry point into the essay is a question, then you can end with one final answer. Many writer’s end with a final quote.

In the essay, “Slackers” by Malcolm Gladwell, he ends with the following quote: “None of the doctors who treated me, and none of the experts I’ve consulted since the day I collapsed, have ever heard of anybody being gone for than long and coming back to full health,” he writes. He was back on the track nine days later.

David Remnick, author of “We Are Alive”, ends with the following quote: Springsteen glanced at the step and stepped into the spotlight. “Hola, Barcelona!” he cried out to a sea of forty-five thousand people. “Hola, Catalunya!”

Other ways to end are to make a judgement or recommendation or share an insight.

In “On Writing Well,” William Zinsser makes a few suggestions about ending a piece of creative nonfiction:

  1. “When you are ready to stop, stop. In other words, don’t write too much.”
  2. “The positive reason for ending well is that a good last sentence–or last paragraph, is a joy in itself. It gives the reader a lift, and it lingers when the article is over.”
  3. “The perfect ending should take the reader slightly by surprise.”
  4. “What usually works best is a quotation.”

Zinsser also tells us not to end by summarizing. For instance: “In summary…or “To conclude…”

Why? A summary is repeating yourself by compressing details that were already shared with the reader. Instead, you ought to make one final point that resonates in the mind of the reader.

There are no rules on how to end, only suggestions. It is up to the writer to decide how to begin and how best to end a piece of writing. Whatever methods you choose, be sure to capture your reader’s attention when you begin. A good beginning draws your readers into the writing like a magnet.  And end your work with some important final point. A good final point is like a knockout punch.

Resources

  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • The Story Within: New Insights and Inspirations for Writers by Laura Oliver
  • The Elements of Story: Field Notes on Nonfiction by Francis Flaherty