6 Best Practices for Writing Creative Nonfiction

creative nonfiction

People browsing books usually scan the cover for the title, author, and whoever wrote the foreword. Then they glance at the back cover.

If intrigued, they’ll turn to the first chapter.

Your first paragraph—from the first sentence—must compel your reader to continue.

The power of creative nonfiction comes from using a technique common in fiction—rendering avisualto trigger the theater of the readers’ minds.

Certain stories should be told exactly as they happened. Take it from a novelist who also writes nonfiction: You don’t have to resort to fiction to captivate readers. Creative nonfiction is often the best way to go.

What is Creative Nonfiction?

creative nonfiction

Also referred to as literary or narrative nonfiction (and sometimes literary journalism), the term can be confusing. “Creative” is usually associated with make-believe. So can nonfiction be creative?

It not only can, but should be to gain the attention of an agent or publisher—and ultimately your readership.

Unlike academic and technical writing (and even objective journalism), creative nonfiction uses many of thetechniquesanddevicesemployed in fiction to tell a compelling true story. The goal is the same as in fiction:a story well told.

Some nonfiction narratives carry a literary flair every bit as beautiful as classic novels.

My very favorite book ever, Rick Bragg’s memoirAll Over but the Shoutin’, won rave reviews all over the country. Bragg’s haunting, poetic prose was a byproduct of thepointof his book, not the原因for it.

The Best Creative Nonfiction Writers Are…

1. Avid readers.

creative nonfiction

Writers are readers.Good writers are good readers. Great writers are great readers.

Read everything you can find in your genre before trying to write in it.

You’ll quickly learn the conventions and expectations, what works and what doesn’t.

2. Focused on the heart, but not preachy.

Creative nonfiction consists of an emotionally powerful message that moves readers, potentially changing their lives. But don’t preach. True art gives your reader credit for getting the point.

Readers love to be educated and entertained, butmove them emotionallyand they’ll never forget it.

3. Precise.

Employing fictional literary tools doesn’t mean being loose with the facts. Become an avid researcher.

Your story should be:

  • Factual
  • Relevant
  • Interesting

Are you being objective or spinning your own angle?

Your research should contribute to real stories well told.

Remember to use your research to season your main course—the point of your book. Resist the urge to show off all you learned with an information dump.

4. Rule followers.

Writing a story is like building a house—if the foundation’s not solid, even the most beautiful structure won’t stand.

Experts agree that these 7 elementsmustexist in a story (follow the links to study further).

5. Not afraid to get personal.

Include your unique voice and perspective, even if the book or story is not about you.

6. Creative (pun intended).

Readers bore quickly, so don’t just review a Chinese restaurant—explain how they get that fortune inside the cookie without getting it soggy.

Don’t just write a standard business piece on a store. Profile one of its most loyal customers.


Autobiography:First We Have Coffeeby Margaret Jensen,Testament of Youthby Vera Brittain,The Diary of a Young Girlby Anne Frank,The Year of Magical Thinkingby Joan Didion,I Know Why the Caged Bird Singsby Maya Angelou

Biography:A Passion for the Impossibleby Miriam Huffman Rockness,Steve Jobsby Walter Isaacson,John Adams由大卫McCullough,Churchill: A Lifeby Martin Gilbert,Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muirby Linnie Marsh Wolfe

Memoir:All Over but the Shoutin’by Rick Bragg,Cultivateby Lara Casey,A Moveable Feastby Ernest Hemingway,Out of Africaby Karen Blixen,Angela’s Ashesby Frank McCourt

How-to:Reconcilable Differencesby Jim Talley, the …For Dummiesguides,The Magical Power of Tidying Upby Marie Kondo,Bird by Birdby Anne Lamott,The 4-Hour Work Weekby Tim Ferris

Motivational:The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Peopleby Stephen Covey,The War of Artby Steven Pressfield,Think and Grow Richby Napoleon Hill,The Seven Decisionsby Andy Andrews,Intentional Livingby John Maxwell

Christian Living:Chasing Godby Angie Smith,The Search for Significanceby Robert McGee,The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lastsby Gary Chapman,Boundariesby John Townsend,Love Doesby Bob Goff

Children’s Books:Brown Girl Dreamingby Jacqueline Woodson,The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurusby Jen Bryant,My Brother’s Bookby Maurice Sendak

Inspirational:Joniby Joni Eareckson Tada with Joe Musser,Wildby Cheryl Strayed,The Hiding Placeby Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill,Undone: A Story of Making Peace with an Unexpected Lifeby Michele Cushatt,You’ve Gotta Keep Dancin’by Tim Hansel

Expository:Mere Christianityby C. S. Lewis,Desiring Godby John Piper,Breaker Boys: How a Photograph Helped End Child Laborby Michael Burgan,Who Was First? Discovering the Americasby Russell Freedman,The Pursuit of Godby A.W. Tozer

Time to Get to Work

creative nonfiction

Few pleasures in life compare to getting lost in agreat story. The stories we tell can live for years in the hearts of readers.

Do you have an idea, an insight, a challenge, or an experience you long to share?

Don’t let it rest just because of all the work it takes. If it was easy, anybody could do it.

Master the best practices I’ve shared above so you can do justice to the important stories you have to tell.

For additional help writing creative nonfiction:


Unlock Your True Writing Potential

What’s holding back your writing? Take this free assessment now and learn to unlock your true potential: