Silk + Smoke Issue 2 is live!

Silk + Smoke Issue 2 is now live. This free eBook edition contains 15 diverse short stories, poems and pieces of creative nonfiction from writers around the world.

SILK + SMOKE ISSUE 2

At seven months in, 2020 has been a world-shifting and, dare I say it, ‘unprecedented’ year. Drunken renditions of Auld Lang Syne and half-hearted New Year’s Resolutions gave way to toilet roll shortages, soaring hand sanitiser prices and supermarket shelves purged of dried pasta. Amidst the panic buying and conflicting news reports, soon a global pandemic was declared.

Lives have been lost, fear has spread, social distancing has been enforced, the Black Lives Matter movement has reignited for the world to see and people are demanding real, long-lasting change. As planes were grounded and industries slowed, our planet began to breathe and heal itself. But from time to time, humanity felt broken.

Our daily lives have changed from sleepy morning commutes, weekend adventures and Saturday nights in the pub, to Zoom meetings, face coverings, virtual quizzes and cabin fever.

A lot of 2020 has felt like a bad dream, a chain of events that would put even the most imaginative of dystopian writers to shame. But if anything makes us human, it is our ability to find, create and share the good even in times of crisis.

It’s been a pleasure to read and curate submissions by talented writers from around the world. In these sci-fi times, I hope that you find moments of joy and laughter in these pages and, when times are tough, curl up with a blanket and find comfort in them.

Like the cheese toasties I’ve been making for lunch every day while working from home, this issue of Silk + Smoke is packed with nourishing goodness that’s spilling out from the edges. In this edition, you’ll find souls laid bare and new worlds invented in the form of immersive short stories with compelling voices, lyrical poetry with mind-expanding descriptions and evocative nonfiction with thoughtful reflection.

Thank you for continuing to support Silk + Smoke. I only hope the world is in a better state when Issue 3 comes around *crosses fingers*.

In the meantime: read, write, stay hydrated, eat your fruit and veg (and garlic bread), be excellent to each other and stay safe.

– Sophie McNaughton, Editor

Read Issue 2 while listening to the Silk + Smoke playlist.

The soundtrack to Silk + Smoke Issue 2 with songs chosen by the authors.

Let us know what you think of Silk + Smoke Issue 2 and leave a review in the comments below.

I’ve Done Nothing During Quarantine And I’m Fine With That

Silk + Smoke guest blogger Georgina Wilkinson writes on the constant pressure to be productive and creative under lockdown in this love letter to overachievers and procrastinators alike.

It’s not exactly a Hot Take to say that our lives have changed more in the past few weeks than any of us thought possible – we can’t get haircuts, we can’t buy ice cream, and – most tragically – we can’t sit in beer gardens to take advantage of the sunshine. As soon as lockdown was announced, we knew those things would be changing, and a big part of what’s seeing us through is knowing that, in time, they’ll be coming back.

In the meantime, however, there’s this horrible pressure to get on with business as usual. Being stuck inside means that suddenly all the time we used to spend seeing friends and family, indulging in such luxuries as sitting in parks and congregating in groups of more than three, is just empty – which in turn, leads to an overwhelming urge to fill it. 

There’s a deeply destructive perception that any time that we’re not being productive is time wasted. This is uncomfortably pervasive at the best of times, but without our normal social lives to distract us it’s beginning to become suffocating.

The transition to working from home has brought many of our offices into our bedrooms; work becomes inescapable as huge computers are crammed onto cramped desks, surrounded by hairbands and makeup and scraps of whatever was going on in our lives before this fire-drill of an apocalypse, hastily swept out of the way to make space.

Our offices are now inescapable, and for a generation whose worth has been so intrinsically tied to our productivity, this makes it uncomfortably tempting to put in the extra hours, starting earlier and staying later than we ever would in the office for no extra pay. Without co-workers hanging about, breaks become boring and we go back to what we were doing earlier than we should just for something to do. 

This compulsion to produce is reaching into our downtime as well. After a full week at work, I usually feel absolutely justified in a lie in and maybe one or two plans over the weekend, but leaving the house makes it easy to forget that social interaction itself is something that takes effort. I find myself trapped in an interminable cycle of Zoom calls and Skype catch-ups, since quarantine makes such an easy excuse to see old friends – people who live far away, or in different time zones, suddenly have the space in their schedule to sit on a Zoom call in the middle of the afternoon, or can stay up late since they don’t have to get up early for their commute.

When we’re not frantically clinging to the people we love in the best way we can, we feel like we need to create – eggs and flour have vanished from supermarket shelves as more people than ever have started baking. Links to various blogs, podcasts, and YouTube channels are plastered across social media. It’s exhausting. 

So, this is it. This is the sign you’ve been looking for – this is your permission to not be productive. Nothing great was ever made out of obligation. The compulsion to create things is an incredible one, and is one you should act on as wholeheartedly as you possibly can, but it’s not something worth manufacturing.

When the urge takes you, then jump headfirst into it – make pasta from scratch, use up old tubes of paint to decorate wine bottles and postcards, write, draw, dance, sing, put the best of yourself into the world in whatever small way you can. Until then, look after yourself and the people around you. Wash your hands, stay inside, stare at your friends and family through computers and phones. Do the best you can with what you have, and remember that you are more than your ability to create things.  


Georgina recently graduated from a Masters in Fantasy; she now writes feature articles, creative nonfiction, and poetry whenever she can be bothered. The rest of the time, she watches too many sitcoms and argues passionately with the people she loves about things that don’t really matter. Follow Georgina on Twitter here and read more on her blog, Georgia Can’t Shut Up.

Silk + Smoke: News on Issue 2

With a small voluntary team and limited time and resources to work on the magazine, we took a break after our Halloween competition last year. For our lack of clarity and communication over our hiatus, we can only apologise and thank all our writers and readers for their patience while we regrouped and got our website back up and running.

Now that we’re all in lockdown and having fever dreams that make for excellent creative writing inspiration, it seemed like the perfect time to open submissions for Silk + Smoke Issue 2.

This time around, we are particularly looking for rich literary fiction, nature writing, folklore and fantasy. But don’t worry, we still welcome all weird and wonderful submissions of short fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction. You can find out more on our submissions page.

Submissions open on Monday, April 27th and will close on Sunday, May 31st 2020.

Follow Silk + Smoke on Twitter and Facebook.

Ride or Die

By Meg Mulcahy

We had never seen a double coffin before. One stupid October night, emboldened by whiskey and promise, we crept into Dunboyne funeral home to take a proper look. It had been on display in the home window for weeks, the subject of Bridie and Maureen’s nattering propped up by shopping trolley bags. A double coffin. “The Padre Pio Package,” we called it. A double deal, with cheese. We’d spent the night discussing the logistics. How did it work? Did one have to die and be unearthed when the other was ready to join them? Or, did you have to wait, embalmed. Chilling. For as long as it took. True love knows no bounds, after all. We toasted the couples who would have signed the contract, put the deposit down, paid this thing off over their best years, only to resent each other. Those who grew cold long before they were boxed away. We laughed at the Romeo and Juliet of it all. We saw ourselves in it, in a way that everyone mocks people that think they can control what happens next.

The night we broke it, the wind cut oranges. The streets were lashed with glass and electric-lined trainers swung dangerously, kissing other worlds with their toes. We peeled out of our coats, shedding them onto aged burgundy carpet. Incredulous at very much expected vases of faux lillies and stained mahogany. Choking on the stench of furniture polish with already compromised lungs, we bolted towards the display room. Our hands covered each other’s as we fumbled for a groove. We clawed at clasps until Donal’s palms gripped the underside of the lid and heaved it upwards. Awe-struck at luxurious cushioned interiors grander than our own, we ran our hands along the silk long enough to make Donal want to climb in. He patted the velour bed, motioning me inside. I protested a step too far. “We’ve already made it this far. C’mon, we’re more likely to be seen from the road if we’re standing in the window. Hop in.” He made some valid points, though I can’t for the life of me remember what they were. I gingerly put a knee over the coffin and eased myself down into it. “Look, we’re a Twix!” he exclaimed. The ridiculousness was enough to send me over to him, rolling towards his outstretched chest, entranced by the shards of moonlight on his grinning face. Absolutely his, we took comfort in the writhing warm. We were home.

It’s been weeks since that night. We didn’t wake long enough to see who closed the lid, or to scream. We’ve been doing a lot of that ever since. I don’t know how we haven’t been heard; maybe people don’t want to listen. We can’t explain how we haven’t needed to be human, or how we’re sustained by the box. All I know is that we’d better find a way out before this baby comes.

Meg is a writer, poet and general gowl based in Dublin, Ireland. She copywrites for money and runs on iced coffee and hope. Her work lives in her blog The Social Seagull (socialseagull.com) and is featured in Crêpe & Penn, honey & lime, Kissing Dynamite Poetry and GCN. You can find her very much online on Twitter @TheGoldenMej and on Instagram @goldenmej

Halloween Flash Fiction Competition Winner

Pumpkin

By Gary Henderson

“Well you know how we had that packet of pregnancy tests? I was cleaning the toilet and I was going to throw them out because of what we spoke about earlier, and there was only one left in it, and I thought I might as well just use it rather than throw it out, so I just used it, and well, I went and got some more just to be sure, and they were all the same, and eh, it was positive…”

She let the breathless tale dangle in the air for as long as it took me to must up some sort of – any sort of – reply.

I had barely dropped through the front door after the longest day I’d had in a while. Four hours driving from Glasgow to Newcastle on business, and the same in reverse.

The time between was spent wandering the crisp, dark streets of Whitley Bay from one assignment to another. As the evening hours cosied up against me, the streets began to fill with pirates, ghosts and zombies. They ran excitedly from door to door, plastic bags filled with treats bouncing alongside.

My suit was crumpled, my feet were aching and my spirits were damp. I jumped into the hire car with my own treat in hand – a chippy. I sat and read through my messages with one hand while the other grabbed a fistful of chips.

‘I was thinking, maybe we should stop trying for a while? I hate getting my hopes up every few weeks and then being let down.’

I was disappointed, but more for her because I knew she would blame herself.
We had been trying for about 4 months now, ever since returning from a six month round the world ‘finding ourselves’ trip. It was time to settle down, we thought. The wedding was just around the corner, the house was mortgaged and we had just bought a new fridge. It was all very grown up.

But this was the elusive unticked box. As I drove up into Scotland and through the borders, the skies got heavy and the night miserable. I drowsed at the wheel, a marathon waste of a day topped with pretty rubbish news and the drone of the football phone-in.

I trudged into the house expecting her to be asleep and for me to quietly knock over every appliance on the way to bed, welcoming the end of the day.
So, her wonderful, terrifying, beautiful, frightening Halloween treat still hung there as I climbed into bed. The room was dark. My mind was spinning.

“Positive, as in, positive for a baby, as in pregnant?”

“Yeah”

“Oh, wow, that’s good. And that’s definite then?”

“Well, in as much as I’m definitely pregnant”

“Right. That’s good then. Night”

In the true spirit of the evening, I felt myself float above my body, looking down on what life was like before this moment, unable to compute what lay ahead.

Our little pumpkin was on his way.

Gary is a new dad. He doesn’t sleep much anymore. When you’re 30, that’s as scary a sentence as you can read.

Halloween Flash Fiction Competition Winner

Within the Narrative

By Nicholas Starkey

Christ. What is that smell? Oh, yeah.

“Oh well,” I announce, stuttering. I stand up and it hits me – my morning ritual. Or perhaps it’s my mid-day ritual. Oh well. It’s a ritual that I perform every twenty-four hours of living. I wonder when the day will come, where I won’t last the full twenty-four hours of a day – I might only live for two hours of that day. That would be a day that wouldn’t come to an end. I laugh. I’m alone. I look through my bloodshot goggles, around my living space but see nothing. I feel nothing. I lay down once more, back to my previous position. I notice what appears to be a pack of cigarettes laying on the floor next to me. I lunge for them, aching. I feel something – pain. “Bitch,” I whimper. I grab hold of the slightly damp and mouldy package. It’s the package. I could dance. It’s empty. My shoulders descend into a slumping position, my back hunched, and my arms hopelessly fall onto my crotch where they lay limp – without life.

“Hey.” It came from a voice in the corner. I glance over to the corner from which the voice came from, noticing a half-burnt cigarette on the damp floor, in amongst soggy clothes blotched in bloodstains, within reach. I, again leap forward, in agony, grabbing the cigarette. It’s damp. Why is everything wet? Looking for a light, I acknowledge all of the empty cans of lager which I die for. Every single one of them empty –my accomplishment. I check my pockets and find concealed my desire. I take it out, and slowly move the cigarette up to my mouth, placing it between my lips. It tastes of urine. I light it, inhale, exhale. What was I doing again?

“Hey,” the voice whispers again. I remember. I look for the culprit. I place the piss-soaked cigarette in between my lips and rub my eyes. At first, my blurry vision was made worse. I look down, defeated. Seconds later, my vision of the cigarette in my hand is now clear as glass. I look up. It is me. I am dressed in black-battered jeans and a blue-checked shirt, the buttons undone. I can see my chest. It is pale green and sickening. My hair is greasy as if it were made of vile. “Hey,” he slips out once more, as if not to wake a mouse.

“What’s going on?” I answer, my face showing the struggles of attention. “Who are you?”

“Hush, go back to sleep,” he slithers. He moves not an inch. I do as he asks, closing my eyes. I fall into a trance. I am in love with the darkness my eyelids provide. I wonder what the inside of my eyelids look like. Hush… I let my conscious waver and allow him to take over. I drift into a deep sleep. It’s been a long day.


Nicholas Starkey studies English at the University of Strathclyde and enjoys reading and writing poetry. He occasionally writes short stories. He was published in issue three of Quotidian Magazine and has been published in online literary magazines such as The Fiction Pool. Nicholas’s favourite writers and influences include Jack Kerouac, Alasdair Gray and James Joyce.

Halloween Flash Fiction Competition Winner

Silk + Smoke Issue 1 / Download Now

In her creative writing MasterClass series, Margaret Atwood, critically acclaimed author of The Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace, and Oryx and Crake, talks about the classic fairytale, Little Red Riding Hood. To inspire her pupils to think of stories in a different way, she proposes a new opening sentence: ‘It was dark inside the wolf.’

It’s these switches in structure and experimentation with narrative voice, setting, imagery, and characterisation that turn stories on their head. From the outset, I wanted Silk + Smoke to be a haven for just that, for the stories that don’t bend to fit any one genre or traditional style but pull us into their own strange worlds.

Silk + Smoke is a home for the horrors that make you flinch and recoil away from the page, for the post-apocalyptic thrillers that flush a chill through your veins, for the comedies that have you laughing out-loud on the train to work, for the personal essays that lay the soul bare, for the words cherry-picked and weaved together into lyrical poetry, and for the dialogue handcrafted into scripts.

This magazine started in December 2018 as nothing more than a Twitter page and some half-baked ideas. We received nearly 200 pieces in our first call from submissions and now the very first issue has finally arrived.

Thank you to the contributors, who wrestled and pulled their ideas from their mind to the page, for making this first issue possible.

– Sophie McNaughton

News / Silk + Smoke Issue 1 publication cycle

While we’re working through your lovely, gruesome submissions, I thought I’d give everyone some news about our plans for the publication cycle for Silk + Smoke’s first ever issue.

Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone who sent in their short stories, poems, scripts, and pieces of creative nonfiction for consideration.

Silk + Smoke started as a small idea and has already received so much support from amazing readers and writers around the world which we are very grateful for.

We were inundated with imaginative, experimental pieces and we’re so excited to release them out into the world like a (nice) viral plague very soon.

Silk + Smoke Issue 1 eBook

After the process of reviewing and selecting submissions (we’ll update everyone who submitted individually when this stage is complete), Silk + Smoke will be releasing a FREE eBook of Issue 1.

For the second issue, our first priority will be pursuing several routes to obtain funding, so we can produce a print edition, maybe have a little launch party (with cake and drinks), and, most importantly, pay our writers for their amazing work.

For now, Silk + Smoke is not funded by any arts organisations or charitable bodies, which is why we can’t pay contributors at this time. When we have a source of funding, we plan on backdating payments for Issue 1 contributors to ensure no one misses out.

Weekly publication cycle

Silk + Smoke will release the eBook of Issue 1 followed by a weekly publication cycle.

One or two pieces (depending on how many we accept) will be published on our website and accompanying social media channels each week, so there will be a spotlight on each short story, poem, script, essay, and author published.

Featured author

Lastly, we will also select a featured piece, a favourite from the issue, and publish an interview with the author about their story, their inspiration, the writing process, and more.

We’d like to thank everyone again for their submissions and support. We hope you’ll enjoy what we’ve got coming up!

– Sophie McNaughton

Editor / Silk + Smoke

Should I study creative writing at university?

Deciding whether or not you want to go to university, no matter what subject you’re interested in, can be tricky. The structure of a degree isn’t for everyone. We all learn and create in different ways and those differences should be celebrated and taken advantage of.

If you hated school/college and you desperately want to take a different path to pursue a career in writing, go with your gut. If you are considering studying creative writing at university, but you’re unsure what to expect, keep reading!

How do creative writing workshops work?

Every creative writing course is different. You may be going for a degree where creative writing is only one component (with other modules in English, Journalism etc.) or your course may be solely dedicated to creative writing. Either way, going to your first class can be daunting and you may not know what to expect or how to prepare.

Most creative writing courses typically do some variation of workshops.

In my first creative writing workshop at university, we had the usual awkward ice-breakers, then we read and analysed a few short stories/poems, and had an open discussion about them. Afterward, we were put into small groups and given a homework task (write a story with an element of the surreal). In the next class the following week, we went back into your small groups after reading each other’s work and shared our feedback.

For me, this style of creative writing workshop was the ideal mix of reading, writing, and criticism.

The importance of feedback

The practice of giving and receiving feedback can take some time to get used to. A lot of writers are naturally protective of their work. They don’t want to hear anything negative about the piece they worked hard on and put a little piece of their soul into.

But being openminded and willing to incorporate valuable feedback will set you in good stead for your degree and for your future career, no matter what field or profession you go into.

Feedback is also valuable because it will give you a unique insight into how someone else views your story.

Once during a meeting, another writer was talking about one of the female characters in a story I had written. They said that they thought this character seemed somehow untrustworthy, there was something suspicious about her.

I didn’t intentionally or even consciously write the character this way and I hadn’t thought of her as a character who was up to something. But, when I reread the story, I picked up on subtle mannerisms that would’ve painted her in this light. With this feedback, I fleshed out her character further and developed this side of her. Without that feedback, the character might have turned out to be completely different.

(Stephen King, when rereading his first draft of Carrie, picked up on the prominence of the blood imagery he had weaved throughout the story. When he redrafted the story, he developed these references and used blood to represent feminity, maternity, sexuality, guilt, salvation, and more. Having a fresh pair of eyes on a story, whether your own or someone else’s, will open your mind to new perspectives.)

The great thing about receiving feedback is it’s up to you what you choose to incorporate and what you don’t. In creative writing workshops, nobody is an expert – everyone is still learning. You can pick and choose which pieces of feedback you want to act on.

On the flip side, when you’re giving someone else feedback, even if you think the piece is weak or underdeveloped, I recommend highlighting at least one thing that’s positive about the story. Constructive criticism is valuable, but if someone receives nothing but negative comments delivered in a blunt, dismissive manner, it’s discouraging and typically unhelpful.

Remember to be kind when you’re expressing your opinion. Creative writing workshops where you have the opportunity to deliver feedback to others will help you develop your analytical skills and, with practice, you’ll become more articulate in forming arguments – a skill you can use in your essay writing.

Get involved and get experience

To make a headstart on a career in writing, your degree alone isn’t going to be enough. The earlier you start building a portfolio of writing the better.

If you choose to go to university, gain as much extracurricular experience as possible. I would recommend writing for your university’s student newspaper/lifestyle magazine and submitting to/getting actively involved in running the literary magazine.

If your university doesn’t have a student newspaper or literary magazine, start one! Many universities have funding available for new societies, so if you have an idea for something you think your university is lacking, research how to start it up yourself.

Joining or building your own community of writers is a great way to learn, meet likeminded people, and enhance your overall experience at university. As well as joining/starting clubs, I would recommend writing outwith your degree, too.

Research literary magazines online, write, and submit work to them. It’s never too early to get started and get your work out there.

Or, if you don’t want to submit to literary magazines, self-publish! Start a blog, publish your stories on Medium, or start a literary forum. If you have a burning desire to do something a bit different or to start a project you feel hasn’t been done before, you’ll regret it if you don’t give it a go.

Go your own way

Some of the best writers, musicians, and artists in the world are self-taught in their craft and you don’t need a degree to succeed in your chosen field.

If college or university simply isn’t for you, that’s okay – don’t be pushed into applying. Plenty of people write in between work and family life and find themselves being able to produce large, quality pieces of writing.

Making a commitment to regular writing is more important than obtaining a degree. Many people go to university to study creative writing in the hope of becoming a published author, but their writing routine falls by the wayside once they graduate. The structure of university is a great incentive to be creative and productive, but it’s maintaining that momentum that will prepare you for a career in writing.

If you simply love writing in different formats, enjoy dissecting language and writing essays, and if you truly want to go to university to study creative writing, go for it. But don’t let anyone else’s path to getting published dictate your own.

Everyone is different and we all reach different milestones and achieve different goals at various points in our lives. Comparing yourself to other people, in writing or in life in general, will only discourage you.

Create a plan for what you want to achieve and take your own path to get there. When you hit bumps along the way, muddle through them and don’t beat yourself up. Writers are often their own harshest critics, so be kinder to yourself and write what you can when you can.

What can I do with a creative writing degree?

Humanities students often get teased for pursuing ‘useless’ degrees. But there are countless career paths you can take after a creative writing degree. Creative writing graduates have gone on to become published authors, freelance writers, copywriters, publishing professionals, self-employed tutors, editors, journalists, marketers, teachers, bloggers, and much more.

The skills you will gain in a creative writing or any English-related course are essential, practical skills you will use for the rest of your life. Even if you go into a job that’s completely unrelated to your degree, your written and verbal skills will be excellent and your ability to quickly and efficiently write great cover letters, applications, CVs, logs, reviews, and reports will be valuable no matter what career path you choose.

You can choose to utilise your degree and go after a job you really want, and if the ‘dream job’ doesn’t exist, create one for yourself.

University courses, like most things in life, are what you make of them. It’s what you choose to do after graduation day that matters.

Did you study creative writing at university? Thinking of going for it? Or did you take a different path? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Fact and creative nonfiction

When you snuggle down in your seat at the cinema, popcorn overflowing from the packet and trickling onto the floor, and audible slurps from Ice Blasts echoing throughout the screening before the previews start, there’s an air of anticipation.

There’s something about being in a darkened theatre, waiting for a film to start, that takes us back to being giddy children. What makes watching a film on the big screen more exciting are the words: ‘Based on a true story.’

Why does ‘based on a true story’ intrigue us?

‘But why, when we go to the cinema to escape real life, are studios so keen to pitch films as real? For dramatic effect, of course,’ says Matilda Battersby for The Independent. ‘We are suckers for suggestion, and the minute the PR men and women tell us it is true, the fear (in the case of horror) becomes greater, the empathy (in the case of a weepy) becomes stronger and what I like to term the “aww factor” (see sentimental tales such as The Blind Side) becomes more intense.’

In other words, the suggestion of a story being true heightens our immersion in the tale and the intensity of our emotional reaction to it because people love real stories about real people.

When we know a story is true, it is easier, as Battersby says, to empathise, love, hate, and invest in the plot and the characters themselves. When we can relate to a situation or a person and identify with their experience, the storyteller (fiction writer, biographer, film direction, screenwriter, songwriter, or poet) has us hooked.

Are real stories stranger than fiction?

We binge on Netflix true crime documentaries about notorious serial killers; read memoirs by our favourite rockstars depicting their days of debauchery at the top of their game; gorge on food writing and travel blogs; consume literary journalism and shocking news stories; and even get sucked in by trashy real-life magazines filled with stories that would leave Jeremy Kyle stumped.

Real life is often stranger than fiction and that’s what intrigues us.

We know the appetite for true stories is huge; examples are everywhere around us. But when it comes to writing creative nonfiction, how do we strike the balance between ‘creative’ and ‘nonfiction’?

How can ‘nonfiction’ be ‘creative’?

First thing’s first. The golden rule. ‘You can’t make stuff up,’ says Creative Nonfiction editor Lee Gutkind.

In his article on writing creative nonfiction, Gutkind delves into the different subgenres within nonfiction (memoir, biography, and literary journalism) as well as offering crucial advice to budding writers looking to try out this style of writing.

Writing about yourself, reciting a true event from your own life, is no easy task in the beginning. If you already have experience writing short stories, the temptation to slip into familiar habits of embellishment all the way to full-blown fiction is hard to resist.

To claim a piece of work is nonfiction, however, is making a promise to your readers that your account is true, authentic, and honest. Many argue that nonfiction, by definition, simply can’t be creative if you can’t add in fabrication to spice up the narrative. But this isn’t the case.

Writing creative nonfiction isn’t like writing a news story. Admittedly, they both have something in common: they’re about real life, an account of an event that actually happened. But a personal essay or a memoir is not written in a matter-of-fact style, reciting a timeline of events. It is not unbiased or lacking a satisfactory structure of a beginning, middle, and conclusion.

Creative nonfiction may be based on true stories, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be written using the same literary devices we would employ in fiction writing.

We can still use metaphors, similes, descriptive language, symbolism, and foreshadowing. A story can be factual and sincere and still be written beautifully.

How to write creative nonfiction

Putting pen to paper, or fingertip to keyboard, for your first piece of creative nonfiction can be daunting. But like staring any first draft, you need to simply get the words out of your head and onto the page. Even if you think your first draft is terrible, you can always go back edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page.

Gutkind advises creative nonfiction writers to write in scenes: ‘Scenes and stories are the building blocks of creative nonfiction, the foundation and anchoring elements of what we do.’

‘The stories or scenes not only have to be factual and true, they have to make a point or communicate information, as I have said, and they have to fit into the overall structure of the essay or chapter or book,’ he argues. ‘It is often a daunting task. But it’s essential.’

Gutkind talks about how writing in scenes makes the difference between showing and telling in your writing. ‘The lazy, uninspired writer will tell the reader about a subject, place, or personality, but the creative nonfiction writer will show that subject, place, or personality, vividly, memorably—and in action. In scenes.’

If you have a strong idea for your piece of creative nonfiction, a particular scene at the forefront of your mind, whether it fits in at the beginning, middle, or end, start there. Once you have the crux of your piece nailed down, you can flesh out the rest, construct the remainder of the narrative, and weave your distinctive personality and tone of voice throughout to ensure the piece is faithful to the true story.

When struggling to put your memory on paper, you should create an outline for your piece. A tangible structure and end goal will help you prioritise the scenes in your story and give you a firm direction of travel.

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, as part of her five tips to writing creative nonfiction, says: ‘The best stories always have a clear structure and objective, exploring or highlighting issues.’

‘Creative non-fiction is the same. The skeleton of the story should be developed with the known facts and fleshed out with the detail from first-hand research.’

Crossing over into the real world when you’ve been used to creating your own universes in the realm of fiction writing is a difficult transition.

Writing real life comes with a learning curve and it takes time to get it right. As much effort and time as it takes, writing creative nonfiction well simply comes with practice.

But, if you have a great true story to tell, and you have experience writing fiction (and enjoy it!), the tools you need to write creative nonfiction are already at your disposal.

The wonderful thing about creative nonfiction is that, when you get it right, you can use it to chroniclise your life, to externalise and document your experiences, good or bad, and keep them sacred, as portable memories you can look back on.

So, stick to the golden rule (you can’t make stuff up), practice, and have fun with it.

Examples of creative nonfiction:

Do you write creative nonfiction? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below.