Writing Rut Breaker: Tackling the Form of Creative Nonfiction


In each of our pen lives, getting into a creative rut is common. If that happens, it’s necessary to push through. I imagine a seedling pushing its way through the ground or a hatchling pecking its way out of the eggshell. There’s no other way out.

At times, the daily grind of a writer can feel mundane. Don’t let that get to you or get weary. You are making yourself write when you are not exactly in the mood. Then, you are constantly trying to meet those deadlines. You are constantly pitching and constantly trying to sell yourself and evaluating the comments given to you by your critique group. The critique group got your writing and you know the direction your writing is headed and your niche is crystal clear. Now, you are figuring out a marketing strategy for your new novel. And, so on.

The best advice that I can give to any writer in a creative rut is to continually challenge yourself. 

  • Find a writers group with those of a similar or more advanced experience level and that’s a right fit. Nothing wrong in leaving a group if it doesn’t meet your needs
  • Take an advanced writing class either in your genre or venture into another genre
  • Take a class in another art form such as painting, baking, dancing, sewing, or croquet
  • Lead a group, teach a class, or organize a retreat
  • Find a new publication that you’d like to write for
  • Give yourself a deadline
  • Take a break from your writing and have fun
    • Socialize and catch up with old friends or make new ones
    • Take a trip
    • Flirt with your partner and spend time with him or her. Don’t neglect your significant other. I’m thankful for a supportive husband



Image: pixabay

Creative people need constant challenge with variety. You must have been that kid who  couldn’t sit still in class. You were easily bored. Lack of challenge doesn’t build creative strengths. Those “creative juices” are not magical potions but muscles that need to be exercised. Building, exercising, and maintaining those creative muscles are what makes a writer thrive.


Taking my own advice, I signed up for a personal essay class, 6 Weeks 6 Essays at Grub Street. It’s nice to take an intermediate level course in another genre, nonfiction writing. It’s only the second week and I’m learning so much. My Grubbie instructors, so far, are much more globally minded, well-read, down-to-earth, and my classmates are just as globally minded, curious, and insightful.

I was excited and nervous at the same time. I love learning about writing. I also feared what if the class sucks. What if I have no ideas to write about? Can I really write 6 pieces in 6 weeks? The reference point was some of my worst college writing classes. For real, I had one instructor scribble the word “vague” in the column of my writing. That ironic vague feedback is so ingrained in my memory that I even remember the color of her ink and handwriting. The classes here are not remotely close to terrible MFA program experiences. There will be detailed feedback, peer interaction, and you will learn. You will get your money’s worth due to the quality of courses and instructors.

Each week in this class, we were required to write a 500 to 1,000 word essay. It’s tougher to convey meaning and depth in a short amount of words. I’ve been intrigued by the idea of creative nonfiction. Fiction comes naturally to me. Creativity in conjuring unique characters gave me immense joy. With fiction, a sufficient distance between the author and reader always exist. I’m not afraid to speak my mind, but it’s different when writing.


Image: Pixabay

Personal essays or memoirs require a closeness and a certain level of vulnerability that made me feel like I’m stripping my soul bare. My first challenge was determining how much I wanted to reveal. This day and age, it seems that everyone had a fucked up childhood. Before putting away the past through silence, I hope that you realize that your life challenges or adventures can be stories that others need to hear. That thought is what encourages me to push through and take risks when I write about certain experiences.


Image: Pixabay

I have learned to respect my boundaries and I do not have to reveal more than necessary. I am reminded of Hemingway’s iceberg theory, where the subtext of writing is like the ice beneath the visible iceberg.

The reader get it without you, the author, having to explain all details. Or, as an alternative, there is the option to leave it open to a reader’s conclusion.

Certain ideas are better told in nonfiction form such as the third-culture kid experience. I’m working on a TCK fiction and I’m realizing that I may have to educate and inform my readers about TCK identity too. Personal essays can be a tool for that purpose. I’ve written magazine articles like the how-tos, exposes, interviews, and issue-based articles. The personal essay appears much more “literary” to me.

Pursuing nonfiction is not simply about exposure and confessional, but also exploring another form that best fits the idea.

If I didn’t choose to challenge myself by trying a different genre, I wouldn’t face looking at my pen life in a different perspective. Now, I have different ideas for short pieces. The topics are very similar to the themes in my fiction writing. Having a writerly niche doesn’t have to be tied to genre or form of writing. A niche could be a theme or a set of experiences  that a writer is best at writing.

When a writer continues to challenge self and intentionally try to break out of the rut, discoveries about a writer’s pen life or journey will be made.

Now, what are some ways you could push through your writing rut?






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