Creative Nonfiction Writing Exercises

An Imagined Life

Begin an essay by imagining the life of someone close to you—a family member, a friend, mentor—before you knew them. Use your imagination coupled with your experience of this person. Use any objects that may offer clues: objects, newspaper clippings, photographs. Then complete the essay by contrasting this imagined past of how the person is today. Are they different? How?

Famous People I Have Known

Recreate your own or a relative’s interaction with a famous person.

Wild Space

Isolate an outdoor space from your childhood. Quickly write down every element you can remember in as much detail as possible. Take inventory. Record everything you remember. Now fill in an emotional tone for each detail. Assemble these specifics into an essay.

My Hood

Write a biography of a place. Choose a street, a forest, a road, a community, etc.

My Travels

Write a specific story about a trip you’ve taken. An example would be Amanda Field’s “ Cairo Tunnel” in Brevity 30.

From the Headlines

Consider the newspaper. If creative nonfiction is in part “a way of seeing,” what is a different view of a standard story? Take the front page of the newspaper and make a list of stories. Is there a more particular angle that you can draw up an essay from?

Holiday Meal

Write an essay after compiling a list of details that made a holiday meal in your family unique. Include not just the food but who was there, the atmosphere, conversations. Have you captured the flavor of your family?

Ritual and Spirit

Describe a religious experience or a ritual that you recall from your childhood. Use quotes from this ritual or service as a frame for your essay. Use present tense and vivid imagery. Then go back and rewrite the piece using past tense from an adult perspective. What’s changed?

Your Timeline

Make a timeline from the year of your birth up until now. Research local, national and international events that have happened in your lifetime. Then also add on deaths, births, weddings, parents’ divorce, first hair cut, first dance, and other dates that have been significant in your life. Once you are finished write an essay using the dates as your section headings.


Write about a body of water that knows you well. Someplace that you have frequented more than once—a lake, river, creek, pond, branch, ocean. Be very specific. Let the details of the place guide you.

Self Help

Write an essay in the form of a how-to guide using the second person. An example can be borrowed from fiction Lorrie Moore’s “How to Talk to Your Mother” or “How to be the Other Woman” or Junot Diaz’s “How to Date a Black Girl, Brown Girl, White Girl or Halfie.”

Use of Negative Space

These words against one another create an immediate conflict. Try starting with any pair of these phrases:

I remember

I don't remember

I have always

I see

I don't see

I have never

I know

I don't know

I want to

I wonder

I don't wonder

I don't want to

I hate

I love

I try to

I try not to...


Write about a person you love. This apparently simple instruction may be more difficult than you think. What makes us love people? How do we avoid being sentimental when describing the attributes that make someone loveable? You will immediately be faced with the decision of writing about someone you love or loved romantically or as a friend. Or perhaps you’ll choose a family member. Your greatest challenge will be to make your reader love this person, too

Write a Letter

Write an essay in the form of a letter in which you confess something.