I write nonfiction. I once thought this genre of writing was self-explanatory, until I became one of these writers and tried to explain it to people with inquiring minds. Forget those with inquiring minds; just trying to explain it to myself often leaves me stuttering.
So I start with what I'm not within this genre: journalist, essayist, biographer, memoir writer (not yet, that is), magazine writer, political or anthropological writer, travel writer (though I'd love to be), historical writer, academic writer (though I've been there), brochure or instruction manual writer, food writer, or technical writer. At some other point in time, I may explore a number of these forms of nonfiction writing and delight in their craft, but now is not that time.
You're not alone if you're asking, What, then, is left to claim?
I hesitate to say this, because it rings superfluously in the ears, and yet, there it stands as a viable form: Creative nonfiction.
Creative nonfiction is writing as true as trustworthy journalism, but with an imaginative, more personal edge. I didn't describe myself as this kind of nonfiction writer until sitting in my nonfiction writing class, wondering if I belong, wondering if I misread the course description, if there is any place for artfulness or is it all about writing that is information-driven.
On the webpage for the Creative nonfiction journal, I find my place in this description provided by the editor, Lee Gutkind:
"This is perhaps creative nonfiction’s greatest asset: It offers flexibility and freedom while adhering to the basic tenets of reportage. In creative nonfiction, writers can be poetic and journalistic simultaneously. Creative nonfiction writers are encouraged to utilize literary and even cinematic techniques, from scene to dialogue to description to point of view, to write about themselves and others, capturing real people and real life in ways that can and have changed the world. What is most important and enjoyable about creative nonfiction is that it not only allows but also encourages the writer to become a part of the story or essay being written. The personal involvement creates a special magic that alleviates the suffering and anxiety of the writing experience; it provides many outlets for satisfaction and self-discovery, flexibility and freedom."
I'm a creative nonfiction writer who has ample space for improving her craft. I'm also a creative nonfiction writer who believes reliable writing can be both craft and art. While accurate, well-researched information is important, I believe there's a place for writing- dare I say - perceptions, because they are deeply human. Because sometimes we aren't just in search of hard facts. Sometimes we're in search of something bigger, something harder to explain with facts and data, and that's what turns my head and lights my writing fire.