For Pain or Gain: Tips for Writing Meaningful Nonfiction

Tips for Writing Meaningful Nonfiction

Guest Post By Courtney Frey

My first creative non-fiction was a messy memoir holding tragic secrets of my past, linked to those I loved and those I’d yet to forgive.  It was bound at a local Kinko’s, and shortly after, I proceeded to hand it out at a family reunion.  I’d tried for years to exercise the demons by telling, but when no one would listen, I wrote the book hoping they, at least, might read it.  The response to the book was, “Burn that book.”

In years to come I published over two hundred articles both online and in print, and while friends and family members occasionally supported my writing ability, it was when I was about twenty-three my step-mother sat me down and had a hard heart to heart about what my writing non-fiction was doing to my family.  She told me, or rather, screamed at me, “I hate that you have more talent in your damn pinky finger than I’ll ever have regardless of how badly I want it, and I hate that you use your writing to harm rather than to heal.  Don’t ever, ever, write another single word about me or anyone else in this family.  Ever.”

A year later I’d written my second book, Restitution.  I hid this one from my family until after I was able to receive enough reviews on it from non-biased readers to finally admit that I’d gone against their wishes and done it yet again.  After several family members read it, the one response that locked my book up in an old purple crate for nearly ten years was, “Bad things happen to everyone Courtney, but it’s not what happened that counts.  It’s what you do with it.  Stop causing others hurt because of your hurt and be courageous enough to light the path.”

I had a long way to go, and another ten years before I understood what writing creative non-fiction, especially memoir, meant.

I’ve since edited Restitution, and it is now actively pursuing an agent, but the journey towards re-crafting the truths I’ve held since I could first walk was not an easy feat.   But, why tell the story anyway?  Shouldn’t we just “get over” our pasts?   Are we not strong or wise or mature enough to learn to just “let things go?”  Over and over again I’ve heard these words, even still today I’ll come across a blog or an article that focuses on the intent to forget.

My non-fiction writing is an art of storytelling for the sake of purpose.  I look at author’s and speakers like Dave Pelzer and from New York Times Best Selling List at number 7 right now, “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened,” by blogger Jenny Lawson; and I am baffled because some of our best nonfiction is the re-living and the re-telling of the stories of our experiences that lend someone else the insight and the encouragement to become inspired.

Here’s the difference between pain and gain in writing creative nonfiction:  Will this harm or heal?  Does my story, which in most cases is not any different than another million others, inspire?  Am I just telling it to tell it, because I didn’t get to when I was a child?  Is this my therapy, or is this the couch I offer others who need someone to start the clock?

Recently, a friend of mine who has been toying around the idea of writing her story, asked me, “How do you know where to begin?”   I replied, “You begin with your purpose.  You envision yourself looking back at you in the mirror of your soul and you demand that you teach love.”

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”
― John GreenThe Fault in Our Stars

It took me nearly thirty five years to put myself back together in such a way that I had something to offer because of how I’d mastered the purpose of my experiences.  To write  to heal, is for my journals.  To write to change lives … that is for my books.  Nothing you ever experience is in vain.  Your purpose awaits you … and the world is hungry to know it.

Write for gain, not in pain.

Published By Cyril P Abraham