Writing Excuses 8.51: Creative non-fiction with Mette Ivie Harrison

Mette Ivie Harrison joins us to discuss creative non-fiction, the genre in which the tools of creative writing are applied to factually accurate narratives. Her latest book, Iron Mom, tells the story of how and why Mette  became a triathlete. We talk about how those tools are applied, and where the line between fiction and non-fiction might be drawn.


Try your hand at creative non-fiction. Takes something that is ordinary to you, but which may be unusual or extraordinary for other people, and write about it in a way that evokes wonder.

Steelheart, by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Macleod Andrews

8 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 8.51: Creative non-fiction with Mette Ivie Harrison”

  1. Hey guys. First time commenter here. I didn’t know if anyone else had an issue with the audio player, but mine has been pausing a lot lately. Just thought that I would let you know.

    Now, for the podcast. I found this one really interesting. I had never heard of creative non-fiction before but I would like to learn more about it. I remember reading short stories in my English classes that in retrospect were probably creative non-fiction. The ability to transform the mundane to the spectacular is a necessary skill for any writer in my opinion. I would love to hear more creative non-fiction authors on the podcast.

  2. Shelby Foote’s “The Civil War: A Narrative” trilogy fits in the “narrative non-fiction” subcategory, for those who have the time to get through it. The series is endowed with wonderful prose and a novelist’s sense of story, not just events.

  3. One difficulty of Creative non-fiction I have is placing myself in the moment when the emotions were overwhelming and difficult. For some reason when you’ve lived it it’s harder to communicate things that are difficult and it’s easy to withdraw and then not get in the necessary details.

    But when it’s a difficulty you didn’t experience and can make up… it’s much easier to get down and dirty because there is a built in sense of detachment.

    I would think this would be a good topic for a creative non-fiction podcast.

    This kind of thing spills over to fiction too…

  4. My favorite example of creative non-fiction is Winterdance: the fine madness of running the Iditarod by Gary Paulson.

  5. I took a class in creative non-fiction at the community college. It really is an excellent learning experience and can help a fiction writer improve on writing. Of course, there is so much more that can be covered on that topic. In short, I will add these aspects of creative non-fiction to help listeners of this podcast. Many writers say that the difference between creative non-fiction and just plain non-fiction would be that creative non-fiction intends to tell the story within the story. It means more than giving an objective summary of events, but getting deep within the emotions to help dig out the story within the story, often in a subjective way. For example, non-fiction itself would be autobiography, telling about your life. Creative non-fiction would be memoir, telling about your life while also expressing the story of your experience. Likewise, non-fiction includes biography, telling about someone’s life. In creative non-fiction, writing a profile is how you tell someone’s life, investigating the surrounding facts, looking at the big picture surrounding the individual, immersing the reader and writer in that experience. The three main genres of creative non-fiction are considered to be memoir, profile, and personal essay.

    In the same way that an aspiring fantasy writer should read good fantasy for inspiration and to learn the craft, anyone who wants to learn creative non-fiction should read some good samples of the genre. There are many anthologies of creative non-fiction. One of my personal favorites is “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” by Anne Fadiman, a perfect example of the profile in a long form. Like I said, there is so much more on this topic, it’s like opening a can of worms. Hopefully that will give you listeners more of an idea. It really is a great genre.

  6. “Take something that is ordinary to you,
    but which may be unusual or extraordinary for other people,
    and write about it in a way that evokes wonder.”

    Brandon, that was one of the best writing prompts you guys have given. It’s so good, I may, for the first time, use a writing prompt.

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