Creative Nonfiction Writing Process

Sunday, April 26, 2015
Writer’s writing processes fascinate me, and this includes my own process. Much of what I do comes naturally now that I have experience writing and publishing in multiple genres, but I recently had the opportunity to examine my process for creating a piece of creative nonfiction. I want to share this with you so you can use it to think about your own writing process.

Consider how you start a piece of writing and how you progress from there. What works well? Where do you often get stuck? How does your process end?

Writing Process: Magazine Profile

I wrote a profile piece for a local magazine’s women-in-business issue. To begin the writing process, I researched the business owner by reading her company’s Web site. I knew her specialty was in nonsurgical hair-replacement technology, so I researched that, too.

I spoke with mutual acquaintances to get a sense of the business owner’s personality. This preliminary research helped me create effective interview questions. When I scheduled the interview, I asked if we could meet in her salon so I could observe her and her staff in action.

I do not have a copy of my roughest draft because as part of my process, I usually rewrite over previous drafts. If I decide to cut a large portion of a draft, then I will save multiple drafts in case I change my mind about the cuts. I audio recorded the interview, but I also took a lot of hand-written notes while interviewing and observing.

After I typed the interview and observation notes, I reread them to find intriguing themes, ideas and quotes and used them to make a rough outline of the story. The outline helped me get started, but I rarely stick to outlines because as I start writing, the story often takes on a life of its own and leads me in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. This discovery process is what I love most about writing.

I copied and pasted notes and quotes in roughly the order I thought they should appear, then I created sentences from the notes and used connecting words or sentences to pull the piece together. Once I had a complete rough draft, I sculpted it into a better piece of writing by examining its organization and its line-by-line writing. I focused on creating scenes to help the audience navigate the story.

Some classmates read a draft and gave me feedback, and I revised again. Then I called the business owner to fact check before sending the story to the magazine. The original “final” draft was 1,000 words, but the magazine asked me to cut it to 750 or less, so I did by removing some descriptive details about the salon, side notes about celebrities who wear hairpieces, and other bits that weren’t crucial to the story.

What is your creative nonfiction process like?

Written by Anne Greenawalt, writer and writing instructor


Sioux Roslawski said...

Anne--I wouldn't have thought about speaking to some people who know the subject of your interview--before you form the interview questions--but it makes perfect sense.

My creative nonfiction is usually memoir pieces, so the process is simple--write part of the first draft, let it sit for a few days/weeks, write more of the first draft, let it sit a few days, write the rest of the first draft, let it sit, and then revise.

Thanks for the post, Anne.

Margo Dill said...

I think I am a lot like Sioux, if it comes to personal essay type pieces. But when I wrote feature stories for the newspaper, I would record interviews and then also take notes. I would read over my notes before listening to the interview again to see if there were any themes or how I could connect all of these together, similar to what you are saying here. Everyone has a process--I think there are similarities, but everyone has to find something that works for you!

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