Why She Writes Nonfiction
Written by
She Writes
October 2018
Written by
She Writes
October 2018

Today is National Nonfiction Day and so we thought we would celebrate by sharing some great quotes from can’t-miss nonfiction authors. In this segment of #WhySheWrites, we explore everything from memoir to comics and why each author chose the genre.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of We Should All Be Feminists and Americanah

In an interview with Image Journal, Chimamanda talks about how writing chose her.

Image: You’ve said, “I didn’t choose writing, writing chose me.” How did this happen? How did you discern this calling to become a writer? Would you identify it as a vocation?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I have writer friends with elaborate and exciting stories about how they came to writing, but I just don’t have that. I wrote from when I was six. Even then I knew that this was something that truly mattered to me. When I was ten, though I had a lot of friends, I remember looking forward to when I could go up to my father’s study and be alone and write. It was considered something odd for me to want to do when it was sunny outside. Now, as an adult, I realize it’s what I care about. It gives me a sense that this is what I am meant to be doing.

Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild

In an interview with Vogue, Cheryl talks about how she hadn’t set off on her now infamous journey with the intention of writing about it.

Vogue: You’ve written and published a novel, but this is your first nonfiction book. Were you planning on writing it throughout the hike, or was it only later that you decided to turn the material into a memoir?

Cheryl Strayed: When I was hiking it didn’t really occur to me to write about it—at the time I really thought of myself as a fiction writer. I felt that I couldn’t tell the story until I had lived more of my life and came to a deeper understanding of what that trip meant to me, and what I had to say about it. A lot of people go off and have fun adventures, or hard adventures, and their impulse is to write about them right away. What really makes a difference is having some perspective on what happened.

Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home

In an article on The Guardian, Alison talks about life after her bestseller “tragicomic” Fun Home and how it’s okay to write your story without knowing all the answers. She also gets into the cathartic nature of nonfiction.

“In some ways, it [the new information] would have made it a less interesting book. Not knowing everything is sometimes a good thing in a memoir: a mystery or quest is better than laying out all the facts.” Does she still feel that writing it helped her psychologically? “Yes, I do, though when young people ask me if it was cathartic, and I say ‘yes’, they don’t really know what I mean. They just want to go home and write their diaries and feel better themselves. I wrote diaries, too, for years. But I also did therapy for years. And I pushed myself to engage with my family in an honest way for years. And all that stuff was part of writing the book. I remember being so excited when I read about Virginia Woolf getting her mother out of her head by writing To the Lighthouse. I felt the same after Fun Home. I had been haunted by my father and I no longer was.

Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle

In a Publishers Weekly article, bestselling author Jeanette Walls talks about the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction.

Writing fiction versus writing nonfiction, Walls adds, is like “navigating on the open seas versus a river.” Warming to the topic, she speaks rapidly in her enthusiasm, explaining that with fiction writing, “everything is a choice; if the writing does not ring true, it’s not simply a matter of digging more deeply,” as she did previously as a journalist and as an author. Walls calls her first book, Dish: How Gossip Became the News and the News Became Just Another Show (Morrow, 2000), “a deep book about a shallow topic that didn’t work.”

“It’s not a process of remembering, but rather of imagining,” Walls says of writing fiction, disclosing that when she considered the dialogue between key characters in The Silver Star flat, she and Taylor would act out scenes before she revised it.

In the comments, share the reasons you chose to write nonfiction or join the conversation on social using #WhySheWrites.

Photo Credit: Cheryl StrayedChimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Alison Bechdel Graphic by SheWrites.com

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