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You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction--from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between Paperback

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You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction--from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between + Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers' Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Lifelong Books (August 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738215546
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738215549
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #27,798 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Kirkus Reviews, 7/15/12
“Reminiscent of Stephen King’s fiction handbook On Writing, the book will be useful to both new writers and seasoned chroniclers seeking a professional refresher course on the basics of content and continuity and on how to expand audience attention for typically esoteric material…An accessible, indispensable nonfiction guidebook from an authority who knows his subject from cover to cover.”

Booklist, August 2012
“Gutkind, at once methodical and anecdotal in his instruction, offers clear and practical guidance on artistic concerns and matters technical, ethical, legal, and moral.…With expertise equaled by enthusiasm, the founder and editor of the magazine Creative Nonfiction advocates for the genre in which writers ‘can be poetic and journalistic simultaneously.’ An enlightening call for the highest of literary standards."

New York Journal of Books, 8/14/12
“You will be inspired and encouraged to write your way toward the inherent power of your story—becoming a better writer in the process.”

The Writer
, October 2012
“Anyone seeking to write creative nonfiction will benefit from Gutkind’s clear and instructive voice…The many examples of great creative nonfiction he offers (and carefully analyzes in order to explain their magic) are alone worth the price of the book.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/30/12
“Mr. Gutkind’s latest work…is the kind of book about mastering the writing life we’ve come to expect from him: brash, clearly written, opinion-heavy, personal anecdote-driven, and chock full of practical exercises.”

Bookviews blog, October 2012
“This is a grand tour of creative nonfiction, providing challenging writing exercises, analytical reflections on the techniques the best writers use, tips and getting published, and much more. I have been a nonfiction writer my whole life and I can confirm this book will turn you into one as well.”, 10/4/12
“A useful workbook for a specific writing niche, and people wanting to break into the field—especially those parts involving Gutkind himself or influenced by him—would do well to go through the exercises and recommendations in some detail.”

Library Journal, October 2012
“Most writers interested in the [creative nonfiction] genre will want this on their shelves.”
Internet Review of Books, 10/3/12
“This book belongs in a writer’s library.”

Midwest Book Review, October 2012
“From ethical questions on turning nonfiction into creative writing to handling the fine line between fact and fiction, this covers common pitfalls and provides concrete approaches to success.”

Milwaukee Shepherd Express, 11/1912
“Students and teachers of writing will find You Can’t Make This Stuff Up instructive and inspiring…Those leery of yet another writer’s manual will likely find they enjoy reading this engaging book for the way the author weaves together true stories well told.”

Curled Up with a Good Book, 11/16/12
“Memoirists and journalists looking for a fresh approach or a change of pace would do well with You Can't Make This Stuff Up. Everyone else can enjoy a quick and enjoyable trot through an often maligned but compelling and growing literary genre.”

The Worlds of R.A. Hortz, 12/10/12
“An informative book that should be on the bookshelf of every writer.”

East Central Illinois News-Gazette, 4/7/13
“Invaluable as a learning tool…An excellent choice.”

About the Author

Lee Gutkind is the award-winning author of ten books, editor of ten anthologies, and founder of the first MFA creative nonfiction program at the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently a writer in residence at Arizona State University.

More About the Author

Lee Gutkind, recognized by Vanity Fair as "the Godfather behind creative nonfiction," is the author and editor of more than 25 books and founder and editor of Creative Nonfiction, the first and largest literary magazine to publish narrative nonfiction exclusively. He is Distinguished Writer-in-Residence in the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes at Arizona State University and a professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication

Gutkind has lectured to audiences around the world--from China to the Czech Republic, from Australia to Africa to Egypt. He has appeared on many national radio and televisions shows, including The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central), Good Morning America, National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation and All Things Considered, as well as BBC World.

Gutkind is the recipient of grants and awards from many different organizations, from the National Endowment for the Arts to the National Science Foundation.

A prolific author, his most recent books include An Immense New Power to Heal: The Promise of Personalized Medicine and an anthology, At the End of Life: True Stories About How We Die.

His new book, You Can't Make This Stuff Up, is described by Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief and Rin Tin Tin, as the "essential and definitive guide to creative nonfiction . . . engaging, useful, indispensable and inspiring."

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 29 customer reviews
This book is chock full of helpful, tangible and practical advice.
Jill Quist
Even better, the information and selected reading is presented by The Godfather of creative nonfiction himself, Lee Gutkind.
Olivia Bonn
Simply put, this book has all that you need to know about the subject.
M.R. Donaldson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 23, 2012
Format: Paperback
Creative nonfiction has become a hot commodity in recent years. It is "the fastest-growing genre in the literary and publishing worlds." An example is Rebecca Skloot's "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," one of the outstanding books of 2010, in which Skloot explores the life of an African-American woman whose cells are used all over the world for groundbreaking research. Lee Gutkind, author of "You Can't Make This Stuff Up," discusses works by Skloot and other outstanding writers to illustrate how evocative, moving, and profound creative nonfiction can be.

A prolific author in his own right, Gutkind is the founder and editor of a magazine, "Creative Nonfiction." In "You Can't Make This Stuff Up," he defines creative non-fiction, talks about some of its "prime movers," and addresses the challenges inherent in writing an essay, article, memoir, or other full-length work that is entertaining, stylish, memorable, and factually accurate. He emphasizes that there are "legal, ethical, and moral lines" that should not be crossed when writing creative nonfiction. Writers who "make stuff up" are often exposed, leading to reputations in ruins and careers that are ignominiously cut short.

This well-constructed book features outstanding examples of creative nonfiction by Skloot, Gay Talese, Lauren Slater, and Eve Joseph. These pieces demonstrate how colorful characters, lively scenes, crisp dialogue, and good storytelling can draw us in, maintain our interest, and subtly reveal big truths. In the second part of "You Can't Make This Stuff Up," Gutkind offers aspiring writers sound advice on how to produce their own works of creative non-fiction. He talks about choosing a topic, conducting research, fact-checking, editing, setting up a narrative structure, and revision.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David Steiger on December 20, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Turning our fourteen-year-old daughter’s three diaries into a memoir was proving more difficult than the middle grade fiction I loved to write. YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP by Lee Gutkind was exactly what I needed. Especially what he said about reflection—it hurt—but I had to do it.
I checked out a copy from the library, but halfway through page six I bought my own copy and highlighted the first words that helped me set my goal. I would write creative nonfiction—a well-told true story without any made up stuff. In addition, there was a bonus. This book is helping my fiction. I'll follow the final word and reread it along with STORYCRAFT by Jack Hart.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Steve Bender on September 11, 2012
Format: Paperback
Those little nagging thoughts that may become questions and later a law suit are all answered in this book. The technical stuff is written in such a great style that the book itself is an example of the substance. Every writer should have copy beside the key-board. Thank you!!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Leanne Shirtliffe on February 20, 2013
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this book for several reasons: (1) Gutkind's advice was practical and helpful. I feel like I became a better reader by seeing the relationship between scenes and information through his examples and his highlights. If I become a better reader, I become a better writer. (2) The sample essays are fantastic. They are diverse, and I appreciated reading them in their entirety. (3) I really enjoyed the section on immersion nonfiction. I now want to immerse myself in something that is not related to doing laundry or teaching teens, two things I'm already immersed in. I didn't do any of the writing exercises (in my opinion, those are meant for someone new to writing or to the genre), but I will definitely be applying some of his tips and techniques to my current WIP. Worth the read and the money!
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Steve Proctor on October 9, 2012
Format: Paperback
Disparaged in 1997 as the "godfather behind creative nonfiction" in a critical Vanity Fair article, the author has led the development of this genre since the early 1970's.

The author promotes a practice he calls reading with a "double eye." First, you read as "your" reader -- "writing for others in a way you might want others to right for you," learning to read with an eye for what you want and need to read (and hence to write). You learn to appreciate what you want when it's there, and notice when it's not. And there's reading as a writer -- "to understand the approach, the craft, the tricks of the trade of the writer you are reading."

Part I provides answers the question in depth, "Just what is creative nonfiction?" There's historical and personal background. And there's a great introduction to the various subgenres of creative nonfiction.

The Birth of the Godfather
The Definition Debate
The Fastest-Growing Genre
Truth or...
Truth and Fact
The Creative Nonfiction Police
The Creative Nonfiction Pendulum: From Personal to Private
The Public or "Big Idea'
Widening the Pendulum's Swing
The Creative Nonfiction Way of Life
Selecting Subjects to Write About
The Tribulations of the Writer at Work
It's the Story, Stupid
It's the Information, Stupid
And Finally, a Gentle Reminder

Part II is devoted to the craft of creative nonfiction. This material is focused on the subject -- this is no generic "how to write" book. The many exercises make this part even more useful.
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