This is the kind of conversation I’ve been having with people lately–“I’m writing memoir, I think it’s memoir, but someone else called it Creative Nonfiction. But then I read about personal essays. I’m confused.”
Yes, indeed labels are confusing. In my research for my new book Truth or Lie, I found myself doing a lot of reading about Creative Nonfiction as I investigated these kinds of questions. So far what I’ve found out is this: they are all the same. And they are different.
As you can see, there is no one definition for these genres, but I did notice in some literary magazines, the personal stories that brought in the larger world beyond the author’s very private and personal story were called “Creative Nonfiction.” But other times–and yes, this is confusing, that same kind of writing was called memoir.
So what to do? I blogged about this at the National Association of Memoir Writers today as I was thinking about this Friday’s NAMW Free Telesummit on the subject of Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, and Personal Essay.
No matter what the labels, the first principle of personal writing is to WRITE! We need to not get tangled up in labels. If we are to shape something for publication, we need to have written it from our hearts, we need to put on the page the story we want to tell, the story that wants to be told. Then we can make decisions about how to get the work out into the world.
If you want to read more about that blog post, click the NAMW link. And be sure to sign up for the Telesummit. For 5 hours experts on the topic of personal writing will be talking with me about these interesting questions. You can download all the audios if you sign up and can’t be there.
In the meantime, start writing your next story!
Reading your WOW article, “Beginning Your Memoir and Creating Your Narrative Arc,” was an aha! moment for me. As soon as I began scanning it, I realized I was reading something special in the field of memoir and I began to understand some of the mysteries about the whole process.
You condensed your considerable expertise into a series of simple, clear components.
But the most important of these is how you direct the memoir writer to consider the message that she is intending to send the reader: the lesson, the theme, or the knowledge that might touch, move, or transform.
What clicked for me is that personal narrative is both personal and transpersonal. It is an internal process with benefits to the writer and a public sharing that reaches out to inspire the reader.
So…WOW! Thanks for a great article. It made sense to me in a way that many of the books and commentary on technique, craft, and personal process have not.
Thanks Kate–this means a lot coming from you! It takes time for us to remember the reader, to know our story well enough and trust it so we can move outward to the larger world. Memoir writing is a long process of learning and creativity!
Blessings for you and your work.