You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction--from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between

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Release Date: 
October 20, 2018
Da Capo Lifelong Books
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“You will be inspired and encouraged to write your way toward the inherent power of your story—becoming a better writer in the process.”

The genre of creative nonfiction suffers from an identity crisis.

Is it journalism, long-form reporting, storytelling, or memoir? One sustaining point is “It is truth.” This simplified definition comes from Mr. Lee Gutkind, a prolific author of nearly 30 nonfiction books, editor of Creative Nonfiction magazine, and writer in residence at Arizona State University.

Just as you can learn more in a whole semester than in one lecture in a class, you can work with this book and grow as a writer. You may wish to start with “What is Creative Nonfiction,” or dive right in to “Writing and Revising” to focus on the craft of telling true stories.

Understanding creative nonfiction can be a challenge, because it is not straight reporting. Instead, it uses the tools of fiction for compelling storytelling about fact-based situations. You’ll learn the what and how of this through the friendly coaching of Mr. Gutkind, a long-time favorite folk hero to those who write nonfiction and who enjoy his Creative Nonfiction magazine.

Not surprisingly, since good writing comes from frequent writing, Mr. Gutkind is a proponent of habit and a regular writing schedule. As an incentive to keep writing, he reminds us: “The important thing to remember is that the only way you are going to write successfully is to keep on writing until you get it right.”

By way of example, the book provides an opportunity to study the works of six successful writers. After absorbing their essays, the reader is led through an analysis of the mechanics of their work, especially as it relates to using story techniques in good journalism.

You’ll learn such nuances as inner point of view, use of intimate details, appropriate start and stop points, and dialog that makes characters real. All of these techniques are part of creative nonfiction: “an amalgam of style and substance, information and story.”

Be prepared for some work in the companion exercises if you want to absorb the core message about the writing process. Perhaps read and enjoy the book once, then return with your notebook, and learn how you can improve your craft.

You will be inspired and encouraged to write your way toward the inherent power of your story—becoming a better writer in the process.