Creative Nonfiction Exercises, edited by Jess Smith

Creative Nonfiction Exercises, edited by Jess Smith

As a younger writer, I thought I wouldn’t need prompts for creative nonfiction. I was writing what happened—the “truth”—so why would I need prompts to help spark my imagination? Like most thoughts I had early on about writing, this one turned out to be misguided.

Creative nonfiction distinguishes itself from reporting, from hard news, and even from human-interest journalism, by virtue of being creative. It operates, as a genre, in the liminal space of experiential art. One must adhere to the truth, but also has the gift of exploring the nature of truth itself. I think we wouldn’t have genre-defying creative nonfiction like Claudia Rankine’s Citizen or Jenny Boully’s The Body (to name only a very, very few) if we didn’t permit ourselves, as practitioners of creative nonfiction, to be imaginative, playful, and disorienting. The truth can certainly be described by these three words.

The following exercises will challenge students to write their biggest truths. It will broaden their idea of what an essay is and how we can tell true stories in a way that most closely represents the experience of living those stories. I only wish I’d had these prompts as a newer writer, and I will certainly incorporate them into my own practice now.


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Vanguard: Exercises for the Creative Writing Classroom by Jasmine Bailey, Kate Osana Simonian, and Jess Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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