I have little patience for memoirs and personal essays where every second sentence contains qualifications, such as “but maybe the wallpaper was yellow, not brown” or “I don’t remember why I decided to slap my sister”.
Finally, read the most adventurous current practitioners, such as Geoff Dyer, Maggie Nelson and David Shields.
If you haven’t read these writers yet, I’m really jealous of you. Craft your ‘I’ with great care, as if you were a fictional character. It is commonly understood among creative non-fiction writers, and also dedicated readers, that the ‘I’ in the work doesn’t equal the author, that it is a version of her, shaped to fit the story.
In writing creative non-fiction we often engage with our past.
Yet memory, as we all know, is a fickle, capricious princess.
It may ease the pressure a bit if we, as writers, admit that such concerns are actually a part of the story we are writing, rather than something to deal with on our own, in guilty secrecy.
In fact, sometimes, when written into the story, our dilemmas can become interesting part of the work, deepening it greatly.
Lee Kofman is an author of four books, including the memoir ‘The Dangerous Bride’ (Melbourne University Press), and co-editor of ‘Rebellious Daughters’ (Ventura Press), an anthology of memoir by prominent Australian writers.
Her short works have been widely published in Australia, UK, Scotland, Israel, Canada and US, including in ‘Best Australian Stories’ and ‘Best Australian Essays’.
Of course every writer knows, or at least so I hope, that reading for writers is as important as the writing itself.
Yet, in creative non-fiction, reading may play even a more significant role, because – as mentioned last month – works published in this genre are so diverse, playful, surprising and elusive to definition, that the best way to understand creative non-fiction is by experiencing it.