Lately I've been writing a lot of creative non-fiction. It's completely new to me and a big departure from what I'm used to writing. As a result, the process is, well, let's just tell the truth--it's painful.
In fiction, there are fewer limitations. If the plot's not working this way, switch a few things around and viola! Problem solved. Not so in creative non-fiction. Even though it's creative there's still the sticky problem of The Truth. While taking some creative license is okay, fabricating entire plots, characters, etc. is not (or at least not in my definition of non-fiction.)
In addition, writing the truth hurts. It forces you to confront emotions and situation that are hidden under happier, more pleasant memories. That's not to say that you can only write angsty, depressing non-fiction, but let's face it, life is messy and messy is interesting. Or at least it is to me. As fiction writers, how many times do we hear, "Conflict! Your work needs more Conflict!" Where does that conflict come from? The easy, sunshiny parts of life or the ugly, messy parts?
It's the same for creative non-fiction. Conflict=interesting. Without it, there's no story. The difference with non-fiction is, the conflict comes from the painful parts of your life. And those parts aren't always easy to write about. But those are the parts people want to read about.
Why? Well, my theory is, reading about someone else's messy life gives us a feeling of connection to that person, and humanity as a whole. Even with Facebook, My Space, Twitter, blogs, etc., we're more isolated than ever. We're only getting headlines from other people's lives. So, you might know that a friend has cancer, but you don't know how it felt when her hair fell out in clumps. Or what it felt like to have your body fold in on itself under the strain of the treatments that were almost worse than the disease. Life seems so much more sanitary than it really is, leaving us unprepared when disaster strikes in our own lives.
This is where creative non-fiction comes in. Reading about other people's lives helps us to deal with our own. And that's why it's so important to write the Truth. To write the ugly parts. The messy parts.