Nonfiction Writers’ Creative Compass

The cycle of five stages presented in The Creative Compass organizes my dad’s and my ideas and stories — not to mention those of dozens of other writers and thinkers — but this cycle doesn’t itself offer a formula or a blueprint for your words on the page. Instead, it captures the act of creation, the journey that a powerful idea takes from one mind out into the world.

Whether you write stories or not, you’re the protagonist of this story, the one who starts a new project, continues with it (or not), and eventually finds your way to a conclusion, often again and again, as you reread and reconceive what you’ve written, as necessary. You do the hard, creative work — even if it’s not always recognized as such.

Nonfiction writers may “drive better cars,” as the saying goes, but they’re often treated like grunts in an army that boasts an elite class of creative storytellers. And those who talk about “creative nonfiction” almost always mean memoir.

This month, I’ll be teaching my own creative nonfiction class. What do you think: Will my prospective students all be aspiring memoirists? I’ll report back.

Creativity Means Seeing More

In our book, my dad and I set out to explore the process we undertake no matter what we’re writing: fiction, nonfiction, story, non-story, long or short. The book alternates between instructional chapters and personal narratives. Both demanded immense creativity from us.

Our experience points to an unmet need for a broader definition of creativity. That definition would acknowledge the key roles played by organization and analysis, talents we may be more inclined to associate with expository and persuasive writers but that also serve storytellers. I’ll take a closer look at the role played by organization next week.

In the meantime, nonfiction writers often need reminders that their work is and must be creative — and that they too need to take time to dream, even when on deadline.

On this blog, my dad and I presented one model of the nonfiction writer’s progress through the five stages. What’s your experience? Please share your thoughts via Facebook, twitter or email.