Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Getting to Grips with Creative Non-fiction

What is it and how do you get started?

Put into its simplest terms, creative non-fiction conveys facts in a creative way. In other words “true stories well told”. Most of what we write day to day is non-fiction, but most is far from creative. It could be argued that it is more difficult to make a true story exciting (while sticking to the facts), than to make up an exciting story from scratch.

Non-fiction writing covers news stories, feature articles, reviews, biographies, autobiographies, diaries, memoirs, travel writing, essays, historical accounts, self-help books and a whole lot more. Traditionally, non-fiction writers such as journalists have stuck to the facts – who, what, where, why, how and when. But there is no reason why non-fiction (journalism included) cannot be as interesting and enjoyable as fiction.

In fact, some might argue that all creative writing starts with facts. After all, a writer's ideas have to come from somewhere, so why not 'real life'. As a writer of both fiction and non-fiction I find many of my fictional story ideas are inspired by key historical events, while my characters are based on real people (that said, they are usually 'blended' i.e. each has traits from more than one person).

In recent times non-fiction has become ever more creative by borrowing techniques from fiction writing, such as writing in 'scenes', including dialogue and focusing on an individual's experiences, turning the piece into an emotional experience for the reader. The best non-fiction writers make non-fiction stories read like fiction, so that their readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy.

In fact, creative non-fiction has now become the most popular genre in the literary and publishing communities. This means the biggest publishers are seeking creative non-fiction titles more vigorously than literary fiction and poetry. Even small and academic (university) presses that previously would have published only books of regional interest, along with criticism and poetry, are actively seeking creative non-fiction titles.

So, if you haven't already tried your hand at creative non-fiction, why not give it a go? There are plenty of good books on the subject, or you could attend a workshop / course to get you started.

15 years ago I trained and then worked as a newspaper journalist and have worked in editorial roles ever since. I've spent the last five years practising and studying fiction writing, which has improved my non-fiction writing no end and resulted in one completed novel and several works in progress.

On Friday, 4th July I'll be running a creative non-fiction writing workshop (for ages 16+) at Mirfield Community Centre (West Yorkshire, UK) from 10.30am to 12.30pm. Cost £7 (concessions £5). All abilities are welcome and there is no need to book, just turn up on the day. If you have any questions, please email me at

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Beating Writers' Block

Every writer, no matter how seasoned, will at some point find themselves at the mercy of the dreaded 'writers' block'. Sometimes there's a good reason for it, such as a stressful life event, and sometimes it's unclear what the problem is (other than a total inability to write anything). But one thing's for sure, the longer you spend not writing (and getting stressed about it), the harder it'll be to start again. But (hold onto that towel!) there are several ways and means to kick start your writing and regain that missing mojo.

One way is to enroll on a writing course - even a short one, provided it's well run, can get you writing again. Another is to join a local writers' group - ask at your library to see if there's one in your area. And a third way is to use writing prompts, such as the ones found at sites like Writing Prompts 101.

Below are ten prompts from this site:

1. He hadn’t seen her since the day they left high school.
2. The city burned, lighting up the night sky.
3. They came back every year to lay flowers at the spot.
4. The streets were deserted. Where was everyone?
5. This time her boss had gone too far.
6. She woke, shivering, in the dark of the night.
7. The garden was overgrown now.
8. He’d never noticed a door there before.
9. His feet were already numb. He should have listened.
10. He’d always hated speaking in public.

There are other ways to get your writing re-started, such as walking in inspirational places, meeting interesting people and collecting weird news stories, to name but a few. The main thing is to keep trying different things until something clicks and the words start to flow again. The most important thing, I've found, is not to panic and to keep telling yourself you will write again.

So, when you hit that wall, keep going until you bash through it. I promise there's always a way through, if you want to find it badly enough.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

JaNoWriMo - Crossing the Finish Line!

It felt good to cross the finish line on Friday with the last writing session of our JaNoWriMo challenge. It means I now have a rough first draft to work with over the coming months. And, although L was already there with her first draft, she continued to check/edit her work until the last day and has already emailed her opening chapters 'round our writers' group. Well done L! N had some bad news which threw him off course in the final week, but he said that JaNo fired him up and got him writing the start of a trilogy he had had in mind for over six months. So, we're all glad we did it and we're thinking about doing a similar writing challenge again soon - MarNoWriMo anyone? ;)

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

JaNoWriMo - Day 28

We're so close to the finish line that I can almost touch/smell/feel it - only two days to go to the end of our JaNo challenge. And the time's gone so fast! L has faced a heavy workload in the past few days, but seeing as she's already completed her first draft I don't think she needs to worry! Meanwhile N has had a few days off but said he was getting back into the saddle as of yesterday. I'm still averaging an hour a day and guess what? I've almost finished my first draft! Just a couple more scenes to write and I reckon I'm there. I can hardly believe how fast I've managed to do it, especially considering how bloomin' long it took me to write my first novel. So, there you have it, the JaNoWriMo challenge does work - L and I are living proof :)

Saturday, 25 January 2014

JaNoWriMo - Day 24

There are only six days left until the end of our JaNoWriMo challenge so not far to go. L is busy re-reading her first draft and making notes / changes. Meanwhile, N is still on short story two but is hoping to complete that and story three by the end of the month. As for me, I've been writing an hour plus every day and am now really getting to the heart of my story / characters. Because I'm a 'pantser' I didn't truly understand my character's needs and wants until now. But now their innermost selves and motivations have been revealed, it's given me an even stronger urge to complete the story.

So, the question is, will N complete his third story and will I get my first draft done by the end of January? You'll have to wait until the next exciting installment to find out ;)

Monday, 20 January 2014

JaNoWriMo - Day 19

This image says it all. In fact I'm half tempted to have it framed and hung on my wall!
So, you may (or may not) have been wondering how our merry trio has been getting on with our JaNo challenge? Well, the really good news is that L has finished her first draft! I'm soooo pleased for her as it's the very first time she's done this - what a brilliant achievement! :) As for me, I'm still chugging away, averaging an hour's writing a day (not including all the historical research!) and feel my main characters are starting to become real. It's quite weird when that happens, especially for my husband. I'll suddenly mention a character and what's just happened to him/her and he thinks I'm talking about a real person - you'd think he might have got used to it by now! Thankfully he's a very tolerant man :) As for our third JaNo member, due to family commitments N hasn't made any further progress on his second short story, but he has promised he will finish it AND a third story by the end of January, so watch this space!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

JaNoWriMo - Day 14

And so we've reached the two-week mark! The good news is, despite a few setbacks, we're all still making progress on our respective projects. So far I've managed to write every day - even on the worst days I managed 30 minutes and on the best days I wrote for 1 hour 20 minutes straight. L has almost finished her first draft which stands at almost 69K (wow!) and N is tackling the second short story in his trilogy. In fact, we're feeling so positive that L and I have pledged to continue into February.

TIP: I've found that keeping each other updated on a daily basis has really helped to keep us motivated and I'd recommend this kind of challenge to anyone who might otherwise find it difficult to write every day.

Friday, 10 January 2014

JaNoWriMo - Day 9

I'm feeling pretty shattered today but I still managed to write for half an hour on my story. B is ill and R kept us awake half the night and I spent a good part of the day in a meeting re. a different writing-related project which I plan to launch in about 5-6 weeks time. Yesterday I was minding R all day and visiting friends and family, so, although I enjoyed the day, I had no time to myself until the evening by which time I was sooo tired. Also B was back from three days in London and feeling poorly. By the time I knuckled down to write I could only do half an hour. But at least I've written every day for nine days - and working on the same thing too! N had a break yesterday and L had a break today, so I don't feel half as bad as if they had been scribbling/typing away furiously the whole time. And tomorrow's another day! :)

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

JaNoWriMo - Day 7

So, it's day 7 of JaNoWriMo! At the end of the first week I'm pleased to report that L, N and I are all still very much on track with our respective projects. L is bowling along at 57160 words for her fantasy story and N has finished his first short story and started his second. At writers' group on Monday, N explained he's writing a series of short stories with a linked theme. His first story deals with a contemplated suicide, but that's as much as he has revealed. Meanwhile, I've been keeping up with my daily writing hour and I've done a bit of historical and medical research for my story. As some of the characters are from 12th/13th century I've realised I'll need to do quite a bit of research before it's finished, which I don't mind (yes, I'm a geek).

All in all, a good first week to JaNo. Here's to the next week!

Monday, 6 January 2014

JaNoWriMo - Day 5

Well it's day 5 of JaNo and N, L and I are still scribbling / typing away on our respective stories. I've done an hour's writing every day, L is going great guns with her word count at 50279 (she's been working on a half-completed draft), while N is working on a short story, the theme of which he's keeping under wraps for now! My story's been taking quite a few unexpected twists and turns and is getting quite complicated. I'm still not entirely sure how things will work out, but I'm sure I'll find a way to return everyone home eventually.

So, that's 5 down, 25 to go!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

JaNoWriMo - Day 3

It's day three and me and my fellow JaNoWriMo-ers have been busy. I've done an hour's writing each day (about 11-12 pages of handwritten A4) and L's been rocketing along with her daily word count. Meanwhile N's TV has blown up which he sees as a blessing in disguise as it's allowing him to concentrate on his writing!
I only have a vague idea where my story is going (yes, I'm a pantser!) and so I suspect a huge amount of editing will be required later on, but for now I'm just going to keep on writing and hope it works eventually. L is a plotter and so she'll have far less editing to do and I'm not sure whether N is plotting or 'pantsing' but I know he has a specific story / word count in mind.
The main thing is our JaNo challenge has got off to a good start - here's hoping it continues!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

JaNoWriMo - Day 1

Okay so it's 2nd January but NaNo is 30 days so... Anyway, the good news is not only have I started with an hour's writing blitz but also two members of Cleckheaton Writer's Group will be joining me on my JaNoWriMo journey!

N, L and I will be keeping each other updated and motivated with regular email updates on our progress. L is aiming to do 30-40K words by the end of January to complete the first draft of her YA fantasy and I've pledged to do a minimum of one hour's solid writing per day. As I'm doing this draft longhand I've decided it's easier to count pages and time the writing rather than count words.

So, my goal is to write for a minimum of 30 hours on my latest story during January, after which I'll type it up and do a word count. I also promise to post regular updates on our progress.

And if you fancy joining us, just let me know!