How to Write a Creative Nonfiction Piece

Inhabiting a new genre in a new style has been challenging but rewarding. I chose to write a creative nonfiction piece written specifically for publication in The Atlantic. Ezekiel Emanuel’s piece titled “Why I Hope To Die at 75” was an invaluable resource in this process. I tried to mimic everything from sentence structure to argument development in my paper. While I faced challenges every step of the way, I am happy with how my first draft turned out.

I found the reverse engineering activity very helpful in initially picking apart the genre that is creative nonfiction. The Ta-Nehisi Coates articles were my first real exposure to this genre and writing style. I remember finding his articles very smooth and easy to read. Ezekiel Emanuel’s article seems to have the same easy reading quality. I believe this readability of the articles is the culminating result of specifically implemented structure, diction, and syntax. In my effort to create a creative nonfiction piece, I focused on these particulars of style as well.

Referring specifically to “Why I Hope To Die at 75,” the argument is developed through blending personal anecdotes and opinions with relevant facts and statistics. I noticed Emanuel constantly shifting his angle of attack (subjective vs. factual) in order to fully expose and develop his argument. This blending strategy also allows the piece to remain readable, and enjoyable. He includes the perfect amount of facts to gain credibility without losing reader interest. I found this blending act to be one of the biggest challenges while writing. My past assignments have been much more dichotomized: use facts in a research papers and eloquence in narratives. While combining the two was a challenge, I feel my final product (at least my draft) represents an entirely new side of me as a writer, which is fulfilling.

I attempted to first get my thoughts on the page before I became overly worried about diction and syntax. I felt that worrying about these finer details would prevent me from getting down on paper. However, once I had a fairly complete draft of thoughts written, I went back through and began adopting the style at hand. First, I attempted to eliminate as much abstract diction as possible and instead replaced it with more concrete diction. I felt this was an important step in creating the readability displayed by my model, as abstract diction often requires the reader to stop and think, re-read sentences, etc. This is not conducive to the causal audience of The Atlantic. The second major detail I focused on was sentence structure. My model used primarily simple and compound sentences in order to keep the ideas moving forward. I found out very quickly that my “go-to” structure is complex. It was quite the project going through my draft and changing some of the complex sentences to simple and compound. However, I feel varying my sentence structure will make me better as a writer in all genres, not just creative nonfiction.

I believe I will be spending a lot more time focused on the finer details of style in my editing process. We will see where I rank once my final draft is complete:

GQ Magazine cover: most stylish man alive edition
Cover of GQ magazine.

2 thoughts to “How to Write a Creative Nonfiction Piece”

  1. I agree that the reverse engineering project was a wonderful exercise and it definitely helped me establish a genre. I think your direction of diction is going to be a really strong component in your piece. Establishing what the audience is used to and recreating it will be extremely beneficial in your repurposing. I am also attempting to be conscientious about implementing a tone that is similar to my model source. I am a big fan of varying sentence structure and I am also trying to implement that in my project. Details are everything and if you are focusing on that already I am sure you are in great shape for your final draft!

  2. Jeremy —
    Readability is probably the most important thing when writing for casual readers, like those who read the Atlantic. If you’ve been as conscientious and consistent in your essay as you have in your blog posts and responses, I don’t think you have anything to worry about in regards to that! I also have issues with the consistent use of complex sentence forms, and I found it helpful to occasionally force myself to only write in simple form. Sometimes going to the other side of the spectrum for a while can help you better gauge the middle ground.

Leave a Reply