The “creative” aspect of writing nonfiction simply refers to the art, not the act of make-believe. It means that we heighten our use of language and shape our story; we impose a narrative of meaning that represents our individual emotional truths. That truth varies from person to person.
And in a moment of synchronicity, I'm listening to The Reunion with the Beirut hostages, John McCarthy, Brian Keenan and Terry Waite, along with Jill Morrell, on Radio 4 as I write this. It's worth having a listen to (on the wonderful Listen Again service, just click the link above) for two reasons.
One is how Brian Keenan describes the differences - of having a fifth gear in the car, of drinking beer from bottles - he was shocked by when he returned. These are the details writers need to think of when placing a story in a particular time because we forget and take for granted how things change.
But another key moment for me was Jill Morrell's comment at the end. She said that she found the programme useful because in talking again about what happened, she could make her own narrative clearer. By bringing in the truths of the others, she was able to colour hers in a little more, make it more substantial for her.
I like the idea of our life narratives not being firm like this. Of being aware of how they can shift and change depending on who is telling the story. It's frightening, but it's exciting too. We write to find out what we think and perhaps as much, we write to find out what happened to us. When we do this well, we turn our life into something others can share and respond to. And the secret of doing that successfully is that we should take nothing - not even drinking beer out of a bottle - for granted. As Kim Barnes answers with this question:
Q. Is there a moment in a short piece that you find yourself looking for as a writer and reader?
A. Yes – that point where the essay surprises me. This surprise can come as a word, a phrase, an image, an appropriate revelation. It’s what causes the essay to transcend individual experience and attain the level of art.
And if you are looking for somewhere to submit your essays, Conclave Journal are now open to submissions of character based essays and non-fiction amongst other things. Definitely worth a look, and also your support.