What is creative nonfiction and what is memoir?

MC over in Freemont writes: Much of your work would be considered creative nonfiction. Is there a difference between creative nonfiction and memoir?

Nope, not when writing. Technically, I suppose you could argue that creative nonfiction (CNF) is a form of journalism that can include an element of reportage that is not necessarily a part of memoir. All this goes out the window when we move the dial to selling (okay,okay: publishing) your work.

In general, newspaper and newspaper-ish editors hate the very phrase “creative nonfiction”. Those editors don’t look fondly on memoir, either, but they love a good story. So sell them a story.

Certain literary magazines don’t like the term CNF, but are happy to receive “literary nonfiction’ or “narrative nonfiction” or an essay. Or short memoir, for goodness sake. You can see why hair-splitting the subtle subdivisions will distract a writer from writing. A writer who enjoys splitting along those lines is a great person to have as a writing peer. Give ‘em a stack of literary magazines and ask her or him to tell you what to call your submission. You’ll get fewer rejections.

If I were a gambling gal, I would bet the deed to mah plantation that most readers are not thoroughly clear about the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Not because they are dumb. Because they care more about the story than they do about artificially created categories. As an industry, we have to arrange material in such a way that readers can find it. That is all the importance categories such as creative nonfiction and memoir should have.

My non-fiction To Do list:

  • The New York Times Sunday Styles section
  • Tin House
  • Creative Nonfiction (again)
  • Mid-American Review (read my How I Got That Story interview with Mid-Am’s editor, Michael Czyzniejewski. At the very least, this post will tell you how to pronounce his last name.)

Author: allehall

I am a writer. I write to explore childhood: literary essays and short fiction, journalism, and three haiku. My published work expresses my belief that everything which did or did not happen to me as a child is manifesting in everything that is or is not happening to me today. More importantly, it is also manifesting for my children. I believe funny is the new navel-gazing, and that the best funny keeps a penny's worth of serious in an accessible pocket. Little-known fact: I have a completed novel decorating the inside of a desk drawer. Perhaps it is not funny enough.

One thought on “What is creative nonfiction and what is memoir?”

  1. Cool post & topic — thanks for sharing! I write a lot of nonfiction as well as fiction and so the line between these two genres has always held a particular interest for me.

    This topic actually reminds me of an anthology edited by Herta B. Feely called “Confessions: Fact or Fiction?” It’s an anthology that experiments with reader response and desire for literary works to be either fact or fiction. It is a compilation of short stories, some memoir and some fiction, from a variety of authors. However, the reader is not made aware of the genre of any of the stories until the end of the book.

    Here’s her website if you’re interested: confessionsanthology.com

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