Keen to improve your creative non-fiction skills?

Author Ashley Kalagian Blunt with rainbow bookshelves

I know I recently came out as a crime writer – and I love crime fiction! One of my absolute favourite authors is John Sandford.

That said, I think my first love is creative non-fiction. In fact, I love it – eep! – even more than fiction, because of its basis in real-life events and facts. If you check out my list of great reads, you’ll see the majority are non-fiction.

When I started writing my first book at 14, it was a novel. But when I got ‘serious’ about writing, at age 26, I only considered writing creative non-fiction.

And while I write both fiction and non-fiction (my first book combines both), my fiction writing always begins with research into true events. So my love for non-fiction is really at the core of everything I do, artisitcally.

My favourite creative non-fiction authors include Malcolm Gladwell, David Sedaris, Bill Bryson, Tamim Ansary, Elizabeth Gilbert, Helen Garner and Samantha Irby. Even my favourite book by novelist Douglas Coupland is his biography of media theorist Marshall McLuhan.

So I feel especially lucky to get to teach Online: Creative Non-fiction, a six-week course with Writing NSW, starting 31 October.

Whether you’re writing essays or working on a memoir or other book-length project – or you’re hoping to but don’t quite know where to start – this course is for you.

I’ve just finished designing the course, and had a lot of fun putting it together. Each of the six weekly lessons includes instruction and advice on that week’s topic, essays and/or book extracts to analyse, discussion questions and generative writing prompts. Weeks 1 to 5 each include a writing assignment with a short peer feedback component.

Topics
Week 1. Delving into creative non-fiction
Week 2. Balancing scene, summary and reflective narration
Week 3. Writing the self and others
Week 4. Drawing on research
Week 5. Exploring form and voice
Week 6. Getting published

This course is entirely online, with no Zoom or scheduled meetups, which means you can enrol from anywhere in the world. The course is designed to work with your existing writing practice, or to help you develop one.

Throughout the course, we’re going to read a wide variety of essays and extracts from many of the authors mentioned here, as well as two of the godfathers of creative non-fiction, Lee Gutkind and Dinty Moore.

At the same time, we’ll consider work from award-winning emerging writers, to help you benchmark your developing skills. I think it’s important to read this sort of variety when we’re learning. It can be hard to look at, say, Helen Garner’s work and think ‘how would I improve that?’ It’s a lot easier to do this with emerging authors, whose work provides a pathway between where we are now, and what we might want to achieve.

We’re also going to learn about the fallibility of memory from Malcolm Gladwell, and consider advice from Anwen Crawford, Kate Holden, Sisonke Msimang, Lee Kofman and Ruth Ozeki. We’ll unpack ten aspects of the elusive concept of ‘voice’, and explore a variety of narrative forms.

We’ll also discuss a key question many emerging memoir writers face: What happens when you write about a family memory who really doesn’t want to be written about?

Along the way, I’ll be sharing behind-the-scenes insights and tips from my own writing journey – because a few years ago, I was enrolling in Writing NSW courses and writing, revising and submitting work with the hope of building a career as a creative non-fiction author.

In turn, I’m excited to learn about your writing and help you toward achieving your goals.

Online: Creative Non-fiction runs from 31 October to 9 December 2022. Find out more and enrol at Writing NSW.

The 13 top writing tips I wish I’d had before I started

I’ve wanted to be an author since 1989, when I was six years old.

My Name Is Revenge cover with author Ashley Kalagian Blunt
At my first book launch, April 2019

I took creative writing workshops in university and college. I churned out novels and stories and possibly the worst poetry in history of English.

In my early thirties, I spent five years writing and revising a creative non-fiction book that, despite being shortlisted for two unpublished manuscript awards, is still unpublished.

A stack of journals, a writing project
A selection of my journals, circa 2012 to 2020

Finally, in 2019, my first book came out. It only took me 30 years.

Over that time, I collected a lot of writing advice, and thought a lot about the process of going from aspiring writer to published author. If I’d had even half of this advice when I started, I think the process would have been easier and more enjoyable, if not faster.

So here it is, my gift to you.

Author speaks to crowd at My Name Is Revenge book launch
My Name Is Revenge book launch, April 2019

13 tips on building a writing practice

1. Don’t wait for inspiration or the ‘right’ mood
Learn to unleash your creativity through generative exercises and build a consistent practice. More advice on accessing your creativity >>

2. Start by building a creative practice
When you’re starting out, engage with your creativity for its own sake, rather than with any specific end goal (like publication) in mind. It’s going to take a lot of time and effort to develop your skills if you want to be an author. Enjoy the process. Plus, engaging with our creativity can be therapeutic – hear art therapist Karin Foxwell discuss the healing power of creativity in this interview >>

Ashley Kalagian Blunt author

3. Remember that your creativity is important
Creativity isn’t frivolous, or selfish, or peripheral – it’s a radically powerful act. Author Sarah Sentilles teaches that when we turn toward our creativity, we turn toward the world. Hear more from Sarah in this interview >>

4. Understand that creative work can spark anxiety
What if we don’t know what we’re doing? What if the work we’re producing is rubbish? This is absolutely normal, and something many published authors still struggle with. Listen to author Kate Mildenhall share her advice >>

5. Tune out your inner critic
Most of us judge ourselves and our ideas harshly, but the truth is you often need to go through a lot of mediocre ideas and drafts before arriving at an exciting one. You can learn to tune out the inner critic that tries to shut you down. Here’s a tip: when I’m find myself second-guessing every word of a new draft, I change my font to trees >>

Ashley Kalagian Blunt 'How to Be Australian' in NYC Trees font
Writing in trees

6. Overcome project inertia
Often during a project we can lose momentum, and day by day it becomes increasingly difficult to go back to the work – resistance builds up. I call this ‘project inertia’ and there are strategies to overcome and avoid it. Read more about project inertia here >>

7. Trust the process
As you progress in your practice, you’ll develop a process that works for you. But then you’ll get derailed and feel lost. Go back to your process, and learn to trust it >>

Three people in front of shrubs
One of my writers’ groups

8. Get a writers group (or two)
Once you’ve started producing work you think might be headed for publication, it’s time to get feedback. One of the best ways to do that is a writers’ group. I credit mine with helping me sharpen the skills needed to get published. Read more about how to get the most from writers’ groups here >>

9. Learn your craft
Like any craft, writing has technical elements. If you want to produce publishable writing, you need to learn these skills. In this interview, I talk about applying scene structure to my memoir and other craft aspects >>

On stage at Sydney Writers’ Festival, 2019

10. Build your confidence
Submitting your work means getting rejected. Don’t let that dissuade you, or take up too much of your emotional energy. You can learn to handle rejection! Here’s my advice on building up your confidence >>

11. Accept the ups and downs
If you want to become published and get paid for your work, the process will have many ups and downs. This is true for practically all writers. Here’s the messy process I went through, summarised into 10 easy steps >>

Writers group with six people holding books
My other writers’ group

12. Find your joy, even through rejection
For a lot of years, I received a lot of rejections. But I found myself having a wonderful time, because I loved my creative work, and I loved all the fabulous readers and writers I was meeting through the community. During that, I got involved in supporting the writing community as a way to connect with others, and wrote about how much I learned through this process >>

13. Get ready to be surprised
You never know what will happen. I wrote four full-length books – two novels and two memoirs – and couldn’t get any of them published. Then my publishing career began with a 25,000-word novella and essay collection, which also became my first audiobook >>

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Keen to learn with me? See my events page for upcoming workshops and other opportunities.