I am driven to write nonfiction because I have stories to tell, and in those tellings I am figuring my life out. I am also deeply afraid of personal nonfiction, because I fear I will never actually be able to share it outside of a classroom.
Creative nonfiction is defined by what it isn’t: not fiction. But I have learned to define fiction by what it isn’t: not truth. I know, of course, that there are always truths within fiction, but for me they find a home within nonfiction. Truth versus nontruth. When I write, I am either choosing to write about myself and my experiences, or I am actively choosing to delay these truths. My own, personal truths.
Fiction has become it’s own form of pseudonym, so that one day if I ever publish anything I will say it’s not truth, and my family is spared. And if one of them reads something I write and asks, “Why did you write about me?” I will point to the cover and say, “It’s fiction! Not the truth!” If I call my writing fiction, change some names, do people still have to get hurt? Do they have to know I’m writing at all?
I do not know who I am outside of my experiences. My childhood shaped me, encouraged me to pursue writing. What else do I know? What else do I have to say? I will never know a subject as well as I know my home, my mother, my siblings. But how can I write about them without losing them?
I posed this question to my boyfriend recently: “What are my experiences if I can’t write about them?”
He asked: “Since I don’t write about my experiences, do they not mean anything?”
I know, outside of my writing, my experiences are still true and real. But without writing about them they lose their significance in my life, as I lose the ability to make sense of them. I write to understand my family, and to understand who I am and where I am.
So I write about my life in the short term. I focus only on the story I’m writing or the next story I want to write. I don’t consider what would happen if one of my family members discovered my writing; I don’t plan where my experiences with nonfiction will lead me. I am trying to understand my own life’s past and hopefully I’ll figure the rest out later.