Sign in. There are numerous writing prompts and exercises for fiction writers, but finding quality creative nonfiction prompts can be difficult. When I teach creative writing, the non-fiction unit produces the most initial resistance. It is hard to share and sometimes even more challenging to know where to begin. However, the creative non-fiction unit also ends up producing the most engaged and compelling stories of the whole semester.
Non-fiction can be terrifying and rewarding all at once. After combing through creative writing guides and textbooks, here are five exercises to inspire the non-fiction writer in you. The idea of making a list may seem overly simple, but listing is a quick way to gather ideas without overthinking or censoring yourself. What are lists you could make, I ask them. Once I provide a few examples, they are good to go. The key with listing of any kind is not to expect every item on the list to be a winner.
Write your list and see where it takes you. Writing about place is crucial in many types of creative prose. One of my favorite activities starts with a generic prompt: Write about your favorite place or a place you used to spend a lot of time in as much detail as possible. Then I make them destroy those places. Write about the destruction of this place, I say. What does that place look like now? What emotions come to the surface?
This is much harder, even heartbreaking, for some students to imagine. Even though they are imagining this destruction, they are often able to get closer to their emotions about the place when they view it from a different angle. Conjuring sensory experiences is one of the quickest ways to provoke a memory. Smells, especially, as you already know, can bring back memories you never expected. By considering smell and memory, options for nonfiction essays can grow in so many ways.
Try to write a scene or essay about how the body carries those hidden smell-related memories. You can experiment with the other senses especially taste in the same way. If one of the hardest parts of writing is getting started, writing different versions of the same introduction is a way to experiment and take the pressure off the beginning. Consider all the ways you could start this essay.
For example, you could start with a description of place, or a quote, or a piece of dialogue. You could start at the beginning of the story or whatever you perceive to be the beginning , and you could also start in the middle or at the end. Once you have a few ideas, try writing the intro of this story three different ways. Not all of the versions will work, but that is the point.
You just have to start writing. Describe this object in great detail, and what it has meant to generations of your family. Lee Gutkind and Annie Dillard have created a fantastic repository of classics. Tell a story from your life in inverted chronological order. Start with the end, then backpedal to the middle, then tell the beginning, and then fill in the rest of the gaps.
Write about your favorite trip or journey, and how that high level of happiness was eventually threatened. Look at some photographs of your childhood. Look at the pictures of your old room, the clothes you wore, and the places you had been. Try to remember a friend from that time period, and describe the first memory of a time when they pressured you or made you uncomfortable or angry.
Take a small, boring moment that happened today and write as much as you can about it. Go overboard describing it, and make this boring moment exciting by describing it in intense detail with ecstatic prose. Eventually connect this small, boring detail with the grand narrative of your life, your bigger purpose and intentions. Describe the best meal you ever ate. Then describe a conflict you had with the people you shared it with, one that happened before, during, or after. Recall an individual that you particularly hated.
Describe their cruelty to you, and try to write yourself into an understanding of why they might have done it. Write about the situation surrounding that letter, and why it was so important. Who fought over the name? What was the significance of that name?
What happened to the animal or thing you named? Dramatize the physical danger of the natural event as well as the tension between you and the people you were with. Tell the story of the most important person that has shaped your town and its culture you might have to do some research.
How did the activity of that person influence the way you grew up or live currently? This book masterfully teaches you how to discover the stories others will want to hear. Scientists have wondered for years how nature and nurture plays into the development of human minds and their choices. Explore where you and your siblings are today and the choices that brought you there.
Would you like to trade places with your sibling? Would you be happy living in their shoes? How have your personal choices differed over the years? Write a scene of a time when someone older than you gave you advice, and write about how you followed it or ignored it and the consequences. Write a single, three-paragraph scene when your sexual desire was thwarted by yourself or someone else. Describe a scene when you were stereotyping someone. Did someone challenge you, or if you only felt guilty by yourself, how did you change your behavior afterwards?
Describe the biggest epiphany of your life, then backtrack and tell the lead-up to that scene or the aftermath. Write about a fork in the road in your life, and how you made the decision to go the direction you did. Explore an addiction you had or currently have. Whether the addiction is as serious as alcohol or cigarettes, or something much more mundane like texting, video games, or internet usage, describe in vivid detail the first time you tried it.
If you quit, tell the story of how you quit. Recall a scene in which you chose to remain silent. Revisit a moment in your life that you feel you will never be able to forget. What about that moment made it so unforgettable?
What makes you feel guilty? Revisit a moment that you are ashamed of or feel guilty for and explore why that is. Describe the scene and the event and communicate why you feel this way. Write about a moment in which you acted selflessly or against your own benefit. What motivated you to do so? What were the circumstances? How did you feel after words? Write about the most pivotal scene in a relationship with someone in your extended family — Uncle, aunt, cousin, grandmother.
Describe the tension or happiness you shared, and how that came to affect your relationship from that point onward. If all else fails, try a writing-sprint. Set an alarm for 5, 10, or 15 minutes and write as much as possible within that time span. Even if you begin with no inspiration, you might be surprised with what you come up with by the end. But with this new update you can choose to get positive reinforcements, too, like a kitten or candy, or to have your words disemvoweled rather than disappear.
A points-based system to encourage writers to write words every single day. You get bonus points for not skipping days, and bonus points for writing more than words. Every words you write, you get shown a picture of a kitten. Ah, simple motivation. No word whether a dog version of the site is in the works for those who are more dog people. For more on creative nonfiction writing, I suggest Creative Nonfiction.
This website works with its print magazine counterpart to specifically cater to creative nonfiction writers and operates as an excellent starting point for more inspiration. Happy writing! Stfu, you are amazing, and no one in this entire universe is useless, except for me, so love yourself.
Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. If you like these creative nonfiction prompts, check out the other creative writing prompts here at Bookfox. There are: photo writing prompts musical prompts historical fiction prompts first line generators and more 8. This is seriously the best anthology out there for creative nonfiction. How do you find good creative nonfiction stories?
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