Why I Write Creative Nonfiction

Of all the types of writing I could take on, why creative nonfiction?

Here’s how I came to it.

When, during the second semester of my first year of grad school at IUPUI, I landed in my first ever creative nonfiction writing class, I was only months from having given birth to my first child, and I suspect I was still submerged in the thick fog that is new parenthood. But as my professor explained the creative nonfiction spectrum (really! a whole spectrum! one can write everything from the “I” centric–memoir–to the “eye” centric–literary journalism and the like), if there was a cloud over my brain it lifted and I was struck by a complete and utter feeling of belonging. Like I was finding out about something that I already understood completely, inherently. Like something existed apart from me but was somehow already a part of me.

It freaked me out. It made me ridiculously happy, that there was a way of writing that honors what we all already have, that believes there is something in the every day, that doesn’t rest on having a big story–being a former president or sport star or some medical miracle. No shtick required–just living.

So that’s why I write it, so that I can make something from what I am and what I have. Not that I am trying to make what I am or have into something that it’s not–no–the writing process is more about re-existing inside those moments past, describing and probing them to learn what’s there,  possibly being surprised by what’s there. It’s reentering a room you thought you understood but finding something fascinating or shocking or scary or unbelievable in the corner, or under a table, or on a shelf, something you never expected. Perhaps something that makes you–and your readers–see something else with a new kind of clarity.

Sometimes there are bigger stories–those whoa really? moments that we just have to share. For example: I saw Cheryl Strayed speak/read at Butler University this week, and she’s someone who has written a book about solo hiking the Pacific Crest Trail–a pretty uncommon thing, especially for a woman, and especially for a woman to do in the 90s when she did. So she has this “speicial” story. But, as she explained in her talk, she didn’t start writing the book until she felt like she had something to SAY.  Sure, she had a story–she had something that happened, and it’s a pretty interesting something because it’s so unique–but she didn’t start the book till she saw a bigger, deeper meaning in it.

That’s what I like. The bigger, the deeper. That something is both what it is and something more.

That’s what I’m drawn to; that’s what I try to make happen with my own work.

Plus I can’t write fiction to save my darn life.

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