How to Write Creative Non-Fiction: An Introduction

Meghan MillerMeghan Miller
Student Representative, High Plains Region, 2015-2016
Zeta Psi Chapter
University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO

So, you want to write creative non-fiction without boring your readers to death by sounding like a textbook. You are not alone. Creative non-fiction is a fascinating and exciting genre when done properly. It can be informative and fun. Here are a few thoughts to consider while beginning your next non-fiction piece:

What do you want to write about/how do you choose a topic?

Writing is the painting of the voice! - VoltaireFirst, what are you passionate about? The answer to this question will lead to writing what you care about and enjoy. Anything you are interested in is worth writing about. Aside from writing about interests there are plenty of other questions and topics that can get your creative juices flowing. Do you have a pet peeve? Is there something you think the world should know? Think about your life experiences; are there any you can relate to a broader theme? Any of these questions will guide you to an exciting topic. Whatever you choose, your topic should have a message or purpose. Avoid writing about something you know nothing about (don’t forget, this is non-fiction).

What type of creative non-fiction do you want to write?

CreativeYour topic will help determine the type of creative non-fiction you write. Several non-fiction writing styles exist; the most common include personal essay, memoir, argumentative, and persuasive. After you have chosen a topic, you will have to decide what style in which to write. Some styles do not fit with certain topics. For example, you wouldn’t want to write an argumentative essay about your deceased grandma; you likely would choose a memoir.

Who is your audience?

Audience is a really important element when writing anything. To whom do you want to appeal? Who do you envision reading your work? It is important to keep the audience in mind as selfish writing likely will disengage the reader. Being aware of your audience will help you manage elements like tone, humor, and jargon.

As a creative non-fiction writer, you must remain a reliable narrator. An audience reading creative non-fiction expects the content to be truthful. Although some truths are stretched in writing for stylistic effect, make sure what you are writing is true and an accurate representation of the topic. Your credibility will be damaged if you fail to do this.

How do you incorporate stylistics into non-fiction writing?

Word CloudNow, this is the fun part. Incorporating stylistics into your writing is what keeps your reader from falling asleep. As in any writing, you want to show, not tell. Since you are writing non-fiction, everything you write should be true. However, this should not keep you from using figurative language like hyperboles, metaphors, and similes, because these are the details that separate your writing from textbook writing. These tropes also make your writing unique. Using a personal anecdote is another great way to express your ideas and engage your reader. Make sure everything you use in your writing—down to every word—has a specific purpose.

Vary your sentence structure. Pull out the thesaurus. Let your voice shine through. Just because you are writing non-fiction does not mean you have to leave out all the fun stuff you see in fiction. Happy writing!

What additional advice do you have for creative non-fiction writers?


Submit to The Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle

Follow these helpful tips and submit your creative non-fiction to The Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle. The Rectangle is an annual journal of creative writing that publishes fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Submissions should not exceed 2,500 words.

The journal is refereed, with jurors from across the country selecting those members to be published. The best writing is chosen, from around 1,000 submissions, for publication. Not only do these publications go to chapters worldwide, but they also honor the best writing in each category, with six awards totaling $2,400. There is also an annual reading at the international convention by any of the published writers in attendance. Additionally, 2017 marks the first year the Sigma Tau Delta journals will be cataloged by the Library of Congress.

The submission deadline for the 2017 journals is Monday, May 9, 2016, 11:59 p.m. CDT (Central Daylight Time).

View: Submission Guidelines

Embrace It

Sara Laborby Sara Labor
Sigma Beta Chapter
Chadron State College, Chadron, NE

Sara’s blog was selected 2nd Place in the 2014 Convention Story Contest.

I walk out of the tattoo parlor into the blinding sun and a warm breeze. Savannah air fills my nose: the smell of river, trees, and life. As we walk, there is a little skip in my step. I can’t tell if it’s a leftover euphoria from the adrenaline of the tattoo or if it’s just the gorgeous weather. Probably both.

“Oh my God, the world is beautiful!” I say, skipping a few steps ahead of Hannah. I look back at her; she is smiling.

We walk along the brick sidewalk and enjoy the city sounds. At every direction there is something to see: beautiful historic buildings, moss-covered trees, and street musicians. Hannah points out a brass fountain nearby. We rush excitedly across the street to get a closer view.

When I finally get to peel the bandaging from my wrist, the two black words “Embrace it” greet me. One summer night, while explaining minute plot points of a Doctor Who episode, I stopped mid-sentence to say “Am I boring you with all my nerd talk?” My friend Katie shook her head and said, “I think it’s interesting. It’s cool that you talk about nerd things. Embrace it.”

Inspired by her words, I grabbed a sharpie to write “Embrace it” on my wrist. Even before it was permanently scrawled into my body, I would glance at my wrist when I felt unsure about myself.

Sara Labor with Daniel Mendelsohn at his book signingBut as I peel off the bandage, it has become so much more than that. For now I am thinking of the speaker we just saw, Daniel Mendelsohn, who said “I made my mistake and I stuck to it.” He was talking about the major he’d chosen in college: Classic Greek Literature. “I bet since you’re all here,” he said, “you stuck to your mistake too.”

From day one of the convention, I’ve been unsure of myself. At open mic night, I heard someone bragging about getting her novel published, while others spoke about graduate school or teaching. Meanwhile, little ‘ol me is about to graduate college with no plan and certainly no novel.

But as I look at the new ink in my skin and think of Mendelsohn, I have to smile. I don’t have to be unsure of myself. I am doing what I love: writing, reading, and discussing these things in a beautiful city.

I made my mistake.

I decide to embrace it.

English Undergrad-Friendly Conferences

kboles150by Kelsey Hixson-Bowles
Student Advisor
Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS

I am a conference-going junkie. Seriously. I love presenting my research, hosting workshops, and traveling to different cities. The Sigma Tau Delta 2010 Convention in St. Louis was my first conference-like experience. For those of you who have been fortunate enough to attend our annual convention, you know what I mean when I say it is a great place to meet people you never knew you missed. Convention bonds English majors.

KelseyBlogPic1

Sigma Tau Delta members Hunter Gilson, Alicia Beeson, Kelsey Hixson-Bowles, and Rachel Smith explore the town during the Midwest Writing Center Association Conference in Chicago.

Convention is so much more than just a social experience. What I loved most about convention is also the part that made me search out other conferences: it is a concentration of ideas. It is a place to refresh your brain, gather new insights on your favorite author, reshape the way you have always thought about what qualifies as literature. As a writer, a reader, a feminist, and a thinker, I was interested in finding other conferences that engage in discussions beyond literature.

Like many of you I tutor writing. As a beginning tutor I thought, “Great, I can help people and enhance the marketability of my English skills.” The more I tutored and read about tutoring, the more I realized that there is a lot more to it than I originally thought. This was exciting and I wanted to share my excitement with other writing center enthusiasts.

Students presenting at the Midwest Writing Center Association Conference. From left to right Alicia Beeson, Dory Cochran, Kelsey Hixson-Bowles, and Kate Nygren.

Students presenting at the Midwest Writing Center Association Conference. From left to right Alicia Beeson, Dory Cochran, Kelsey Hixson-Bowles, and Kate Nygren.

Lucky for me (and for you), writing center conferences are especially friendly to undergraduate scholars. Undergraduates are treated as equals among the graduates and faculty. Though I’m a grad student now, as an undergrad I always felt welcome and comfortable with the writing center crowds at the International Writing Center Association’s Conference, the Midwest Writing Center Association’s Conference, and the National Conference on Peer Tutoring Writing.

Do you have a favorite conference? Use the comments below to share your conference experiences!