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Creative Nonfiction

Lynne Bowen: Write what you can learn

During the month of January we will be running creative nonfiction writing tips from members of the Creative Nonfiction Collective to give you inspiration for our current creative nonfiction competition

As a writer and researcher of popular history, I expand the oft-given advice to young writers “write what you know” to become “write what you can learn.” The first thing I do when I start a new nonfiction project is immerse myself in research in order to expand what I know. 

Reading the secondary sources, pouring over the documents, interviewing the people who were there, travelling to the scene of the action, then organizing the research so it is accessible and understandable—this helps me determine what the book will be about.

Then, like a sculptor examining a block of marble to find the work of art that waits inside, I examine the research. I look for the story—for the narrative line. The plot and characters gradually reveal themselves to me and I build the book around them. Then I polish the syntax and add research-acquired detail judiciously. 

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Lynne Bowen is the author of six books of popular history and has received numerous awards and prizes. Her sixth book, Whoever Gives Us Bread, The Story of Italians in British Columbia (2011) was shortlisted for the City of Vancouver Book Prize and won the F.G. Bressani Prize for Creative Nonfiction. She was the Rogers Communications Co-Chair of Creative Non-Fiction Writing at the University of British Columbia from 1992 to 2006. 
 
Lynne Bowen is a member of the Creative Nonfiction Collective (CNFC). To learn more or become a member, click here.

Find out more about our creative nonfiction competition.

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