Response to “Towards a Definition of Creative Nonfiction” by Brett Lott
“Toward a Definition of Creative Nonfiction”, Brett Lott attempts to describe the genre of creative nonfiction by explaining that there is essentially no definitive model. He begins by presenting an abstract definition of the genre which he later molds and amends with additions to become a much more comprehensive working definition. However before exploring the various aspects of creative nonfiction and what it entails, Lott prefaces his essay with the statement that “we aren’t going to arrive anywhere here”.
I found this particularly interesting in that it allows the reader to take Lott’s advice with a grain of salt and amend his definition after one has practiced the art creative nonfiction. He reiterates this last point when he says that “any definition of true worth to you as a writer will and must come to you experientially”. Moreover, the true definition of the genre will come to the reader once he has made the effort to create a work of creative nonfiction. I found his next point regarding order also particularly intriguing.
He states that creative nonfiction is an ordering of the chaos of one’s life and its events. This helps to explain to me the creative aspect of the genre. In order to take “…what we have done, who we have known, what we have dreamt and how we have failed…” one must be able to creatively consolidate these instances and situations in a fashion that is compelling to read. In order to successfully accomplish this Lott states that the writer of creative nonfiction must be able to introspectively analyze his life in order to best portray this order.
What I found interesting about this concept was his emphasis on the self-in-relation to other. In this regard one analyzes his life while considering his action and reactions in relation to those in his environment. This brings his argument to its next major concept stemming from objectivity in writing in the genre. He states that “creative nonfiction cannot be self-serving”. From this I now understand that the writer must not be boastful or self-indulgent towards his own character but instead be able to write a tale of his life while remaining unbiased.
He explains that in order to remain unbiased and non-egotistical one must make an honest effort to analyze his relation to events, places, and people. He describes this analyzing as a way of circling – a “way of looking again and again at itself from all angles in order to see itself most fully”. I found this to be one of the most effective concepts in developing any piece of writing. One must analyze and reanalyze the situation at hand from every possible angle and perspective to not only find the best strategy for retelling but also for the pursuit of truth.
Another argument Lott makes is in regards to the question of deluding oneself when attempting to put order to an event that may not inherently beget such order. This was a question that I myself have pondered in not so many words. This comes back to the question as to how much creative freedom can a writer utilize in recalling a situation, person, place, or time. Lott’s answer is that the writer is the individual who determines the truth.
In his words, “in circling my subject, isn’t it me who determines my course, my longitude and latitude, and therefore am I, by definition, being the most subjective of anyone on planet earth when it comes to my subject? ” I tend to agree with this sentiment – I believe that truth is subjective. Truth is valid if the believer holds is to be so. In writing creative nonfiction, if a writer believes that a certain event happened within the limitations of his recollection then as long as he is making an honest effort to provide truth then truth is present.
This holds regardless of the fact that an event may not have taken place exactly as the writer has described. The reader will never be able to prove otherwise so he must trust the writer just as much as the writer must trust the reader to believe him. I found Lott’s arguments extremely compelling and although he initially stated that there is no destination for the pursuit of a definition, I feel as if his conclusion has found a valid one. Throughout the essay Lott presents new concepts and ideas subsequent to his original definition. By the end he combines these into a very comprehensive and easily identifiable model of creative nonfiction.