Nelson Higher Education

Higher Education

Writing True: The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction, 2nd Edition

  • Sondra Perl
  • Mimi Schwartz
  • ISBN-10: 1133307434
  • ISBN-13: 9781133307433
  • 416 Pages | Paperback
  • Previous Editions: 2006
  • COPYRIGHT: 2014 Published
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About the Product

This book shows writers of all ages how to find and develop nonfiction topics that matter to them—in ways that make readers care too. It emphasizes writing for discovery, not just writing what one knows. It emphasizes a strong authorial presence (voice) and a convincing point of view. Most important, it not only tells but also shows how writing true involves the poet's attention to language, the fiction writer's power of storytellling, the journalist's pursuit of fact, and the scholar's reliance on research. The first part of the book offers ten practical chapters from getting started to turning first ideas into finished work. Topics include: The Power of the Notebook, Ten Ways to a Draft, Taking Shape, Finding Voice, Twenty Ways to Talk About Writing, The Craft of Revision, The Role of Research, The Ethics of Creative Nonfiction, Workshopping a Draft, and Exploring New Media. The second part of the book is an anthology of the best nonfiction writing for aspiring writers to read and study in order to write with creativity, integrity, and authenticity. Organized by form, they include Memoir, Personal Essay, Portrait, Essay of Place, Narrative Journalism, and Short Shorts. Selections represent a variety of experience from classic masters (E.B.White and George Orwell) to major contemporary writers (such as Alice Walker, Stephen Dunn, and Scott Russell Sanders) to up and coming writers (such as E.J. Levy and Amy Butcher). The anthology also includes "Stories of Craft," with five prominent writers, including Patricia Hampl and Sue Miller, describing the challenges and rewards of writing engaging nonfiction.


  • Chapters in the first part of the book can be easily adapted to a variety of courses both in composition and creative writing. Each is a stand-alone chapter and can be used and read in any order, making it easy for teachers to use the book in a variety of class settings and to reach a range of writing goals. For example, "The Power of the Notebook" can be used as a one-night read or woven into every assignment, depending on the syllabus.

  • Creative nonfiction, as a genre, invites all voices into the conversation, for its premise is if writing is insightful and compelling, people will be interested. The selection of readings reinforce this empowerment of the writer to stand up and be recognized by saying "This is the world as I see it!" The result is a greater understanding of the world as seen through the eyes and voices of people whose life experience—whether it affirms or challenges--always informs our own.

  • The exercises at the end of each chapter of Part I featured as "Ways In" are unique – and fun. They offer ways to try out ideas and strategies discussed in each chapter and often become the material for strong first drafts.

  • In "The Power of the Notebook" writers learn how the journal or daybook is a key tool used by writers to discover their themes by writing first and figuring out why afterwards.

  • A key tool for revising and writing well is receiving feedback by others. In "Workshopping a Draft" the authors explain how to read a draft—one's own and others'—so as to see what isn't there yet. This chapter, according to field testers and faculty from across the country who used the first edition, offers one of the best discussions they have ever read on how to give and receive feedback on works-in-progress.

  • The feature, "Twenty Ways to Talk About Creative Nonfiction," helps both new and experienced writers establish the common vocabulary essential in workshop settings—and for assessing one's drafts on one's own.

  • Chapter 9 shows how research is an essential tool of all good writing—from memoir to narrative journalism—and how to incorporate both facts and quotations with grace and in meaningful ways.

  • Thanks to the "Ways In" at the end of each chapter, Writing True makes it easier for writers to work on their own, facilitating long distance learning, for example.

  • Creative nonfiction means "creative" in forms. This book provides a wealth of ideas for innovative forms from using visuals, to lyric essays, to mulit-genre forms that incorporate letters, journals, collage, and humor.

  • Writing True covers the difficult, controversial ethical questions involved in writing creative nonfiction, such as: "Where is the line between fact and fiction? What are the ethics of creative nonfiction? How can we best handle writing about people we know?"


"Writing True has a nuanced sense of the range and breadth of creative nonfiction, how to approach the writing of it, and includes some wonderful exercises which will inspire student writers to experiment, grow, and challenge themselves as writers."
— Jean Harper, Indiana University East

About the Author

Sondra Perl

Sondra is the author of six books, among them, Landmark Essays on Writing Process; Felt Sense: Writing with the Body; 'Stepping on My Brother's Head' and Other Secrets Your English Professor Never Told You, creative nonfiction essays written by well-known writing teachers across the county and co-edited with Charles Schuster; and On Austrian Soil: Teaching Those I Was Taught to Hate, a memoir that tells the story of what happened to Sondra when she found herself teaching Austrian teachers whose parents had been Nazis. This book was a finalist in the 2006 Independent Booksellers Award for memoir and led to the creation of the Holocaust Educators Network, which Sondra now directs at the Memorial Library in New York City. A professor of English at Lehman College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Sondra has received numerous awards and honors including a Guggenheim fellowship and the Professor of the Year Award from the Carnegie Foundation. For more info, go to

Mimi Schwartz

Mimi is the author of five books, most recently, Good Neighbors, Bad Times: Echoes of My Father's German Village, a winner of the ForeWord Magazine for Best Memoir in 2008. Other books include Writing for Many Roles; Writer's Craft, Teacher's Art; and Thoughts from a Queen-Sized Bed, a memoir about life in a long marriage, what you get and give up for it that was a JCC Book Club Pick for nonfiction in 2002. Mimi's short work has appeared in over fifty venues, both academic (College English, English Journal, Chronicles of Higher Ed) and literary (The Missouri Review, Agni, Brevity, Tikkun, Fourth Genre, Creative Nonfiction, Arts & Culture, River Teeth, Calyx, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times). Seven essays have been Notables in Best American Essays. Professor Emerita in Writing at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Mimi teaches writing workshops in creative nonfiction nationwide and abroad. For more information, go to

Table of Contents

1. Why Creative Nonfiction?
2. The Power of the Notebook.
3. Ten Ways to a Draft.
4. Taking Shape.
5. Finding Voice.
Twenty Ways to Talk about Creative Nonfiction.
6. Workshopping a Draft.
7. The Craft of Revision.
8. Exploring New Media.
9. The Role of Research.
10. The Ethics of Creative Nonfiction.
11. Memoir.
Alice Walter, Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self. Lee Martin, Never Thirteen. Lisa Chavez, Independence Day, Manley Hot Springs, Alaska. Nora Ephron, A Few Words About Breasts. Tony Earley, Somehow Form a Family.
12. Personal Essay.
Brain Doyle, Being Brians. E.J. Levy, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Scott Russell Sanders, Under the Influence. Kandi Tayebi, Warring Memories. Dudley Clendinen, The Good Short Life. Rebecca McClanahan, Book Marks.
13. Portrait.
Charles Simic, Dinner at Uncle Boris'. Jill Lepore, Poor Jane's Almanac. Susan Allen Toth, Going to the Movies. Max Apple, Roommates. Alice Steinbach, The Miss Dennis School of Writing. Jerald Walker, Before Grief.
14. Essay of Place.
Pico Iyer, Chapels. Yunte Huang, Southern Hospitality, but Not for Newcomers. Gretchen Legler, Movements of Being: An Antarctic Quintet. Dagoberto Gilb, Living Al Chuco. E.B. White, Once More to the Lake.
15. Narrative Journalism.
Richard Selzer, Four Appointments with the Discus Thrower. Susan Orlean, Meet the Shaggs. George Orwell, A Hanging. Tracy Kidder, from Among Schoolchildren.
16. Stories of Craft.
Patricia Hampl, Memory and Imagination. Lisa Knopp, Perhapsing: The Use of Speculation in Creative Nonfiction. Kim Stafford, The Writer as Professional Eavesdropper. Sue Miller, from A Lecture on Revision. Colin Rafferty, Ten Year Reunion: Writing 'Boys Least Likely to'.
17. Short Shorts.
Bailey White, Buzzard. Sven Birkerts, Every Day. Kathleen Norris, Rain. Amy Butcher, Still Things. Judith Kitchen, Only the Dance. Stephen Dunn, Locker Room Talk. Maureen Stanton, Water. Norma Ella Cantu, Tino & Papi.

New to this edition

  • Chapter 8, Exploring New Media, builds on Web 2.0 applications. It describes and includes examples of programs for composing with online tools and has sections that address the graphic memoir, blogging, and using Twitter and Tumblr – all in the service of writing true.
  • Chapter 10, The Ethics of Creative Nonfiction, incorporates new issues that keep making headlines about the line between nonfiction and fiction, particularly in memoir and narrative journalism.
  • Chapter 9, The Role of Research, offers new online opportunities for gathering facts that will enrich depictions of the world we live in.
  • Part II, the anthology is now more multi-generational, including past masters as well as up-and-coming young writers. An increasingly popular form of Op Ed essay has been added, one that uses memoir or biography for argument and persuasion on political and social issues. The number of Short Shorts increased to eight, now offering an even greater range of styles and voices to emulate – a feature that received a lot of praise in the first edition. And the authors have more fully integrated these readings into discussions of the craft of writing within Part I so as (1) to enlarge the opportunities for experimenting with new forms; and (2) to promote close reading that comes from reading like a writer. The result is a greater understanding of what makes for good writing and how to bring it within our reach.


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