I spend a few weeks doing Creative Nonfiction (CNF) as part of the Masters in Creative Writing I’m doing at the moment with the Open University.
This is what I have gained from practising CNF:
- Fiction is a beautifully wide-open place to explore. CNF, by comparison, seems to be such a constrained form. There is such a massive emphasis on telling the truth. Sure, you still get to tell a story, but it has to be based on fact, even if it’s just the fact of remembering it a certain way.
- The self can be used as a character in a story. A map of the self can be built as easily as a map of others and this character can be used to drive a plot to completion. In a sense, it can be easier to use the self as a protagonist, because everything is known, but in another sense it is more difficult because there are aspects of the self that cannot be used in this way. There are places within that still hurt to be spoken of.
- Any story of the self is very likely to include people known to the writer, and this can bring its own challenges. For example, you (yes, you) are a part of my life. You are in my life story. If I chose to write about the feelings and thoughts I have for (and about) you, then you may not approve of the way that I share them. On the other hand, if I share with integrity, then maybe you would appreciate this. Honesty is both easy and difficult.
Just as an afterthought – I seem to have lost confidence in myself as a writer. The things I write about seem to be trite and hackneyed. I’m reading through a book about the great works of literature through time and it seems to me that it’s all been done before. I guess that digging deeply into myself and my motivations, writing technique (ha) and the content of my pieces, and then comparing these to what has gone before has made me a little anxious.
I feel rather exposed.
Not that I feel especially maudlin about this. It’s all shifting sand.