You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction--from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between

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Overview


From rags-to-riches-to-rags tell-alls to personal health sagas to literary journalism everyone seems to want to try their hand at creative nonfiction. Now, Lee Gutkind, the go-to expert for all things creative nonfiction, taps into one of the fastest-growing genres with this new writing guide. Frank and to-the-point, with depth and clarity, Gutkind describes and illustrates each and every aspect of the genre, from defining a concept and establishing a writing process to the final product. Offering new ways of ...
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You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction--from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between

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Overview


From rags-to-riches-to-rags tell-alls to personal health sagas to literary journalism everyone seems to want to try their hand at creative nonfiction. Now, Lee Gutkind, the go-to expert for all things creative nonfiction, taps into one of the fastest-growing genres with this new writing guide. Frank and to-the-point, with depth and clarity, Gutkind describes and illustrates each and every aspect of the genre, from defining a concept and establishing a writing process to the final product. Offering new ways of understanding genre and invaluable tools for writers to learn and experiment with, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up allows writers of all skill levels to thoroughly expand and stylize their work.
 
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Kirkus Reviews, 7/15/12
“Reminiscent of Stephen King’s fiction handbook On Writing, the book will be useful to both new writers and seasoned chroniclers seeking a professional refresher course on the basics of content and continuity and on how to expand audience attention for typically esoteric material…An accessible, indispensable nonfiction guidebook from an authority who knows his subject from cover to cover.”

Booklist, August 2012“Gutkind, at once methodical and anecdotal in his instruction, offers clear and practical guidance on artistic concerns and matters technical, ethical, legal, and moral.…With expertise equaled by enthusiasm, the founder and editor of the magazine Creative Nonfiction advocates for the genre in which writers ‘can be poetic and journalistic simultaneously.’ An enlightening call for the highest of literary standards."

New York Journal of Books, 8/14/12
“You will be inspired and encouraged to write your way toward the inherent power of your story—becoming a better writer in the process.”

The Writer
, October 2012
“Anyone seeking to write creative nonfiction will benefit from Gutkind’s clear and instructive voice…The many examples of great creative nonfiction he offers (and carefully analyzes in order to explain their magic) are alone worth the price of the book.”

PittsburghPost-Gazette, 9/30/12
“Mr. Gutkind’s latest work…is the kind of book about mastering the writing life we’ve come to expect from him: brash, clearly written, opinion-heavy, personal anecdote-driven, and chock full of practical exercises.”

Bookviews blog, October 2012

“This is a grand tour of creative nonfiction, providing challenging writing exercises, analytical reflections on the techniques the best writers use, tips and getting published, and much more. I have been a nonfiction writer my whole life and I can confirm this book will turn you into one as well.”

Infodad.com, 10/4/12
“A useful workbook for a specific writing niche, and people wanting to break into the field—especially those parts involving Gutkind himself or influenced by him—would do well to go through the exercises and recommendations in some detail.”

Library Journal, October 2012
“Most writers interested in the [creative nonfiction] genre will want this on their shelves.”
 
Internet Review of Books, 10/3/12“This book belongs in a writer’s library.”

Midwest Book Review, October 2012“From ethical questions on turning nonfiction into creative writing to handling the fine line between fact and fiction, this covers common pitfalls and provides concrete approaches to success.”

MilwaukeeShepherd Express, 11/1912
“Students and teachers of writing will find You Can’t Make This Stuff Up instructive and inspiring…Those leery of yet another writer’s manual will likely find they enjoy reading this engaging book for the way the author weaves together true stories well told.”

Curled Up with a Good Book, 11/16/12
“Memoirists and journalists looking for a fresh approach or a change of pace would do well with You Can't Make This Stuff Up. Everyone else can enjoy a quick and enjoyable trot through an often maligned but compelling and growing literary genre.”

The Worlds of R.A. Hortz, 12/10/12
“An informative book that should be on the bookshelf of every writer.”

East Central Illinois News-Gazette, 4/7/13
“Invaluable as a learning tool…An excellent choice.”

Library Journal
Gutkind (founder & editor, Creative Nonfiction magazine; Keep It Real: Everything You Need To Know About Researching and Writing Creative Nonfiction) strays little from the theme of his writing life. He pens here another creative nonfiction how-to, this time with emphasis on truth telling. He presents general guidelines for weaving fiction techniques into factual writing along with advice on maintaining the writer's integrity and respecting narrative truth. Gutkind demonstrates how immersion, compression, and other methods can be employed without improperly fudging—or outright faking—reality. His message, that the creative nonfiction writer is responsible for using literary techniques responsibly and ethically to present factual information, is more definitive than in his past works. The second half of his book also contains craft instruction and several long excerpts for learning from prominent creative nonfiction writers such as Rebecca Skloot and Gay Talese. VERDICT Most writers interested in the genre will want this title on their shelves, though those who own Gutkind's somewhat dated but more thorough Creative Nonfiction: How To Live It and Write It or his more recent essay collection, above, may pass on this owing to subject overlap.—Stacey Rae Brownlie, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA
Kirkus Reviews
A practical primer on writing "true stories, well told." Prolific writer, magazine editor and academic Gutkind (Almost Human: Making Robots Think, 2007, etc.) examines a fast-moving literary genre that promotes credible nonfiction material that's both edifying and entertaining. The first section of his two-part writing guide defines and then describes the conception of authoring creative nonfiction. The second section serves as a motivational guide for writers. Much inspiration can be found in Gutkind's authoritative, slickly written amalgam combining the "basic, anchoring elements" of nonfiction with industry wisdom on fact-checking and boundaries and a short history on authors who questionably padded their subject matter. The author highlights "immersion" research (experiencing subject matter personally) and the importance of rewriting, structure and focus, and he includes valuable writing (and reading) exercises that deconstruct the finer details of the process. Gutkind's generous use of apposite excerpts from such authors as Rebecca Skloot and Lauren Slate further engages readers, encouraging them to practice and apply his writing techniques. Reminiscent of Stephen King's fiction handbook On Writing, the book will be useful to both new writers and seasoned chroniclers seeking a professional refresher course on the basics of content and continuity and on how to expand audience attention for typically esoteric material. Gutkind also provides a helpful appendix called, "Then and Now: Great (and Not So Great) Moments in Creative Nonfiction, 1993-2010," which includes such significant events as the creation of Oprah's Book Club and the James Frey scandal. An accessible, indispensable nonfiction guidebook from an authority who knows his subject from cover to cover.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780738215549
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 8/14/2012
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 156,135
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Lee Gutkind is the award-winning author of ten books, editor of ten anthologies, and founder of the first MFA creative nonfiction program at the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently a writer in residence at Arizona State University.
 
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: How to Read This Book xv

Part I What Is Creative Nonfiction?

The Birth of the Godfather 3

The Definition Debate 5

What Is It-Or Isn't It? 6

Who Coined the Term "Creative Nonfiction"? 7

The Fastest-Growing Genre 9

Subgenres 10

Crossing Genres 11

Poetry Is (Often) Creative Nonfiction 11

Flexibility, Freedom, and the Larger Truth 12

Truth or… 14

Hall of Fame of Fakers 15

Truth and Fact 18

Fact Checking 20

Fact Checking Sedaris 21

Have I Totally D'Agata-ed This? 22

Credibility-and Correctness 26

What About the BOTS? 27

Interesting Reading 29

Who Will Take Charge? 31

The Creative Nonfiction Police 32

The Objectivity Debate 33

Composites 34

Compression 35

Manufacturing Dialogue 36

Name Changing 37

Libel, Defamation-and Writing About the Dead 38

Interesting but Not So Amusing Fudging 39

Share Your Work with Your Subjects 40

Covering Yourself 41

Final Thoughts About Ethical, Legal, and Moral Boundaries 41

Schedules 44

Slave to Routine 45

Passion and Practice 47

The Rope Test 48

Fall Down Nine Times-Get Up Ten 51

A Final Word About Schedules 54

The Creative Nonfiction Pendulum: From Personal to Public 55

The Personal: That Kiss That Caused the Craze 55

The Memoir Craze 57

Between Memoir and Autobiography 58

Don't Get Tangled in Terminology 59

The Public or "Big Idea" 61

The Universal Chord: When Personal and Public Come Together 62

Widening the Pendulum's Swing 65

The Creative Nonfiction Way of Life 69

From Dream to Reality 71

Single-Subject Books 72

Through Immersion, a Writer Can See the Story As It Happens 72

Futures or "Idea" Book 76

Selecting Subjects to Write About 78

Parachuting 79

What Immersion Is Really About: People 80

More About Immersion 80

Literary Sports Note 81

The Bitter Better End 82

The Tribulations of the Writer at Work 83

Anxiety 83

Should You Be Part of the Action? 85

Documenting the Immersion 86

Shirt Boards and Fancy Duds 88

It's the Story, Stupid 89

Thomas and Linda and the Power of the Story 90

The Story Behind the Story 91

It's the Information, Stupid! 94

And Finally, a Gentle Reminder 96

Part II The Writing and Revising and Writing and Revising Part: How to Do It

Introduction to Part II 99

How to Read 100

Reading Over Your Reader's Shoulder 101

I Remember Mama 102

Reading with a Writer's Eye 104

The Building Blocks 105

The Yellow (Or Highlighting) Test 107

A Famous and Memorable Scene 109

To Highlight or Not to Highlight: That is the Question 114

Something Always Happens 114

Endings 119

Dialogue and Description 122

Intimate Details 124

A Famous Intimate Detail 128

More Examples of Intimate or Specific Detail 129

An Important Note About Interviewing 130

Does Absence of the Writer Mean Absence of Detail-Or a Weakness in the Story? 131

Inner Point of View 135

The Creative Nonfiction Dance 138

Reminder: Writing Is Revision 139

Now Let's Dance 140

"Difficult Decisions" by Lee Gutkind 140

Follow-up Commentary 149

"Three Spheres" by Lauren Slater 151

Highlighting "Three Spheres" and "Yellow Taxi" 167

"Yellow Taxi," by Eve Joseph 169

Reflection 183

Dealing with the Dead 185

Recreation or "Reconstruction"? 186

How Did It Happen? 200

The Shocking Truth About the New York Times 201

The Narrative Line and the Hook 204

"Fixing Nemo" 206

Plunging the Reader into the Story 215

Background Means What It Says: In the Back 215

The Story Determines the Research Information-The Facts-You Gather and Provide 216

Framing: The Second Part of Structure (After Scenes) 218

As Part of the Frame, There's Something at Stake 220

Altering Chronology 220

Parallel Narratives 222

Don't Make Promises You Can't Keep 223

Main Point of Focus 226

Frame Reflects Focus 227

Stories (Scenes) Are Elastic 227

First Lede/Real Lead: A Creative Nonfiction Experiment Precipitated by Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald 230

Clarity and Question Marks 232

The Drawer Phase 234

Remember That Writing Is Revision 234

Now That I Know Everything I Ever Wanted to Know About Creative Nonfiction, What Happens Next? 236

MFA in the USA 236

Publish or Perish 241

Don't Worry, Be Happy-and Smart 242

A Final Word: Read this Book Again 245

Appendix: Then and Now: Great (And Not So Great) Moments in Creative Nonfiction, 1993-2010 247

Bibliography 255

Permissions 260

Index 261

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