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You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction--From Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between Paperback – 30 Aug 2012

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You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction--From Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between + Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers' Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University + The Art of Creative Nonfiction: Writing and Selling the Literature of Reality (Wiley Books for Writers)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Lifelong (30 Aug. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738215546
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738215549
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 14.7 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 93,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Kirkus Reviews, 7/15/12 "Reminiscent of Stephen King's fiction handbook On Writing, the book will be useful to both new writers and seasoned chroniclers seeking a professional refresher course on the basics of content and continuity and on how to expand audience attention for typically esoteric material...An accessible, indispensable nonfiction guidebook from an authority who knows his subject from cover to cover." Booklist, August 2012"Gutkind, at once methodical and anecdotal in his instruction, offers clear and practical guidance on artistic concerns and matters technical, ethical, legal, and moral...With expertise equaled by enthusiasm, the founder and editor of the magazine Creative Nonfiction advocates for the genre in which writers 'can be poetic and journalistic simultaneously.' An enlightening call for the highest of literary standards." New York Journal of Books, 8/14/12"You will be inspired and encouraged to write your way toward the inherent power of your story-becoming a better writer in the process." The Writer, October 2012"Anyone seeking to write creative nonfiction will benefit from Gutkind's clear and instructive voice...The many examples of great creative nonfiction he offers (and carefully analyzes in order to explain their magic) are alone worth the price of the book." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/30/12"Mr. Gutkind's latest the kind of book about mastering the writing life we've come to expect from him: brash, clearly written, opinion-heavy, personal anecdote-driven, and chock full of practical exercises." Bookviews blog, October 2012"This is a grand tour of creative nonfiction, providing challenging writing exercises, analytical reflections on the techniques the best writers use, tips and getting published, and much more. I have been a nonfiction writer my whole life and I can confirm this book will turn you into one as well.", 10/4/12"A useful workbook for a specific writing niche, and people wanting to break into the field-especially those parts involving Gutkind himself or influenced by him-would do well to go through the exercises and recommendations in some detail." Library Journal, October 2012"Most writers interested in the [creative nonfiction] genre will want this on their shelves." Internet Review of Books, 10/3/12"This book belongs in a writer's library." Midwest Book Review, October 2012"From ethical questions on turning nonfiction into creative writing to handling the fine line between fact and fiction, this covers common pitfalls and provides concrete approaches to success." Milwaukee Shepherd Express, 11/1912"Students and teachers of writing will find You Can't Make This Stuff Up instructive and inspiring...Those leery of yet another writer's manual will likely find they enjoy reading this engaging book for the way the author weaves together true stories well told." Curled Up with a Good Book, 11/16/12"Memoirists and journalists looking for a fresh approach or a change of pace would do well with You Can't Make This Stuff Up. Everyone else can enjoy a quick and enjoyable trot through an often maligned but compelling and growing literary genre." The Worlds of R.A. Hortz, 12/10/12 "An informative book that should be on the bookshelf of every writer." East Central Illinois News-Gazette, 4/7/13 "Invaluable as a learning tool...An excellent choice."

About the Author

Lee Gutkind is the award-winning author of ten books, editor of ten anthologies, and founder of the first MFA creative nonfiction program at the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently a writer in residence at Arizona State University.

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Teresa on 6 Feb. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
one of the most useful writing tutorials i have encountered
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
"Most powerful stories cannot be eradicated by time." 23 Dec. 2012
By E. Bukowsky - Published on
Format: Paperback
Creative nonfiction has become a hot commodity in recent years. It is "the fastest-growing genre in the literary and publishing worlds." An example is Rebecca Skloot's "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," one of the outstanding books of 2010, in which Skloot explores the life of an African-American woman whose cells are used all over the world for groundbreaking research. Lee Gutkind, author of "You Can't Make This Stuff Up," discusses works by Skloot and other outstanding writers to illustrate how evocative, moving, and profound creative nonfiction can be.

A prolific author in his own right, Gutkind is the founder and editor of a magazine, "Creative Nonfiction." In "You Can't Make This Stuff Up," he defines creative non-fiction, talks about some of its "prime movers," and addresses the challenges inherent in writing an essay, article, memoir, or other full-length work that is entertaining, stylish, memorable, and factually accurate. He emphasizes that there are "legal, ethical, and moral lines" that should not be crossed when writing creative nonfiction. Writers who "make stuff up" are often exposed, leading to reputations in ruins and careers that are ignominiously cut short.

This well-constructed book features outstanding examples of creative nonfiction by Skloot, Gay Talese, Lauren Slater, and Eve Joseph. These pieces demonstrate how colorful characters, lively scenes, crisp dialogue, and good storytelling can draw us in, maintain our interest, and subtly reveal big truths. In the second part of "You Can't Make This Stuff Up," Gutkind offers aspiring writers sound advice on how to produce their own works of creative non-fiction. He talks about choosing a topic, conducting research, fact-checking, editing, setting up a narrative structure, and revision. In addition, he suggests specific techniques, habits, and exercises to help budding writers get started on the road to success.

Lee Gutkind has been teaching courses on creative nonfiction for years; in fact, Rebecca Skloot is one of his former students. However, you do not have to be an aspiring Laura Hillenbrand ("Unbroken"), Jeannette Walls ("The Glass Castle"), or Tom Wolfe ("The Right Stuff") to derive pleasure from this lively, detailed, and entertaining work. Gutkind's passion, humor, clarity, and expertise make this a must-read for anyone who appreciates the art of creating "true stories, well told."

ADDENDUM: I did not deduct any stars for the errors in this book, although considering Gutkind's obsessiveness about fact-checking, I should have. For example, on page 28, Gutkind mentions that George C. Scott and Peter O'Toole won best actor Oscars for "Patton" and "Lawrence of Arabia" respectively. This is untrue in the case of Peter O'Toole. If you look up this fine actor's biography, you will learn that "O'Toole has been nominated eight times for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, making him the most-nominated actor never to win the award."
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP helped me set my goal. 20 Dec. 2012
By David Steiger - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Turning our fourteen-year-old daughter’s three diaries into a memoir was proving more difficult than the middle grade fiction I loved to write. YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP by Lee Gutkind was exactly what I needed. Especially what he said about reflection—it hurt—but I had to do it.
I checked out a copy from the library, but halfway through page six I bought my own copy and highlighted the first words that helped me set my goal. I would write creative nonfiction—a well-told true story without any made up stuff. In addition, there was a bonus. This book is helping my fiction. I'll follow the final word and reread it along with STORYCRAFT by Jack Hart.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Inspiring and helpful 20 Feb. 2013
By Leanne Shirtliffe - Published on
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this book for several reasons: (1) Gutkind's advice was practical and helpful. I feel like I became a better reader by seeing the relationship between scenes and information through his examples and his highlights. If I become a better reader, I become a better writer. (2) The sample essays are fantastic. They are diverse, and I appreciated reading them in their entirety. (3) I really enjoyed the section on immersion nonfiction. I now want to immerse myself in something that is not related to doing laundry or teaching teens, two things I'm already immersed in. I didn't do any of the writing exercises (in my opinion, those are meant for someone new to writing or to the genre), but I will definitely be applying some of his tips and techniques to my current WIP. Worth the read and the money!
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
In two words: Don't lie. Not when you're presenting your work as nonfiction. 8 Aug. 2013
By Aisling D'Art - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book presents very good arguments in favor of writing nonfiction as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

I'll admit that I'm biased and I'm probably not the target audience for this book. I write nonfiction, but mostly fringe, New Age, and BOTS (based on a true story) books. I'm writing with a deliberate slant, and my goal is as much to entertain my readers as to inform them.

So, though the subtitle of this book says its "the complete guide to writing creative nonfiction from memoir to literary journalism and everything in between," I felt as if the author placed clear and narrow limits on how "creative" nonfiction can be. I'm sure that, from his viewpoint, permitting Dewey Decimal Classification 398 (including folklore, fairy tales, and ghost stories) was a grave error.

I wanted to like this book, and I'm sure it's a bible for people who want to write gritty stories about real life, including tragedies and tales of redemption. However, even the examples in this book were depressing, albeit well-written (or perhaps because they're so well written.)

If you love reading books by authors like Steinbeck, Normal Mailer, and Hemingway, you're sure to like this book. If you'd describe yourself as a "cynic," this book is your cup of tea.

For me, this book clarified the kind of writer I am by showing me the kind of writer I'm not... and absolutely, positively, never want to become. Bring on the musical comedies! Give me P. G. Wodehouse!
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Learning Creative Nonfiction from the Master 9 Oct. 2012
By Steve Proctor - Published on
Format: Paperback
Disparaged in 1997 as the "godfather behind creative nonfiction" in a critical Vanity Fair article, the author has led the development of this genre since the early 1970's.

The author promotes a practice he calls reading with a "double eye." First, you read as "your" reader -- "writing for others in a way you might want others to right for you," learning to read with an eye for what you want and need to read (and hence to write). You learn to appreciate what you want when it's there, and notice when it's not. And there's reading as a writer -- "to understand the approach, the craft, the tricks of the trade of the writer you are reading."

Part I provides answers the question in depth, "Just what is creative nonfiction?" There's historical and personal background. And there's a great introduction to the various subgenres of creative nonfiction.

The Birth of the Godfather
The Definition Debate
The Fastest-Growing Genre
Truth or...
Truth and Fact
The Creative Nonfiction Police
The Creative Nonfiction Pendulum: From Personal to Private
The Public or "Big Idea'
Widening the Pendulum's Swing
The Creative Nonfiction Way of Life
Selecting Subjects to Write About
The Tribulations of the Writer at Work
It's the Story, Stupid
It's the Information, Stupid
And Finally, a Gentle Reminder

Part II is devoted to the craft of creative nonfiction. This material is focused on the subject -- this is no generic "how to write" book. The many exercises make this part even more useful. Read the chapter headings of Part II for a clearer idea of its contents:

How to Read
The Building Blocks
The Yellow (or Highlighting) Test
A Famous and Memorable Scene
To Highlight or Not to Highlight: That Is the Question
Intimate Details
Inner Point of View
Recreation or "Reconstruction"?
The Narrative Line and the Hook
The Story Determines the Research
Framing: The Second Part of Structure (After Scenes)
Main Point of Focus
First Lede/Real Lede
A Final Word: Read the Book Again

This book is highly recommended for anyone who aspires to write creative nonfiction. It's probably the premier book on the subject, written by an established advocate and master of the genre. It's also a great overall theoretical introduction to the subject.

For any writer I'd recommend Fowler's Second Edition. It is, I believe, still the single most important guide to English usage. And for writers needing a bit of diversion, there's THE Book of Word Games: Parlett's Guide to 150 Great and Quick-to-Learn Word Games.
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