What I Learned About Creative Nonfiction at Boldface

This article is a continuation of the series: Some things I learned at Boldface 2016 about writing Fiction

Today’s focus is what I learned about creative nonfiction.

I didn’t go to the conference to focus on nonfiction, but when I attended readings and talks on nonfiction, I learned a lot. Of course, many of this advice translates to fiction as well. Here are a few things I learned:

Start with a moment or an observation.

Say yes to invitations that are out of your comfort zone and observe what happens. Journal, carry a recorder or a camera and record the things you see and hear and the people you talk to. Listen to other people’s stories. Participate in events that you’re not familiar with. Then go home and transcribe everything. Write down what you learned and then later do the research to fill in the gaps.  

Nonfiction is not a story about you.

Your nonfiction piece is not an opportunity for narcissism or navel gazing. It’s about the other people you interact with. Your story is about translating the problems and the perspectives of others and then translating them into something you or people like you might understand. You are the stranger looking in on everyday life. Be sure to be empathetic, explore someone else’s world and see yourself in it.

Be honest and be open.

In creative nonfiction, you are not looking at the story objectively. You are a participant. You are a character. But you must travel outside of the self and into the hearts and minds of others. If you are honest with yourself, your discoveries will affect your readers.
I will share more that I’ve learned at Boldface throughout this week. Check back here for tips about using other art forms in your writing, and using time as a framework in your fiction.


Next time someone invites you to participate in something you’re not comfortable with, say yes. Take with you a journal or a recorder and observe what happens. Write about your experiences afterward.



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