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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
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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

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  396 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews
From rags-to-riches-to-rags tell-alls to personal health sagas to literary journalism everyone seems to want to try their hand at creative nonfiction. Now, Lee Gutkind, the go-to expert for all things creative nonfiction, taps into one of the fastest-growing genres with this new writing guide. Frank and to-the-point, with depth and clarity, Gutkind describes and ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 14th 2012 by Da Capo Lifelong Books (first published January 1st 2012)
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Community Reviews

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Olga Godim
Oct 15, 2012 Olga Godim rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a textbook on writing non-fiction, and as such it shouldn’t be able to compete with fiction. But for me, it did. Not only it competed but it also won the competition. Go figure!
I borrowed three books from the library at the same time: a selection of literary short stories, a fantasy novel by a well-known writer, and this book. I started with the short stories and couldn’t proceed past the story #2; it was just too dull and barren of action. Next I opened the fantasy novel. It was OK [I w
Jan Priddy
Oct 14, 2012 Jan Priddy rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: writers
This a how-to book by the “godfather of nonfiction.” Illuminated by long excerpts from strong creative nonfiction, Gutkind’s book manages to do what it claims to do: explain what creative nonfiction is and how to write it well. Gutkind promotes the narrative as the anchoring and most critical strength of creative nonfiction. Write scenes, he insists and the shows how this is done. It helps to discover that what Gutkind wants in an essay is precisely what a fiction-writer wants in a story. And it ...more
Erika Dreifus

By Erika Dreifus

‘Tis the season to focus on nonfiction. For me, anyway. As I struggle with essays of various stripes (and lengths), I’m infused with ideas and lessons gleaned from two new books: Lee Gutkind’s YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO WRITING CREATIVE NONFICTION FROM MEMOIR TO LITERARY JOURNALISM AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN (Da Capo Press/Lifelong Books, Paperback, $16.00 US) and THE ROSE METAL PRESS FIELD GUIDE TO WRITING FLASH NONFICTIO
Sep 08, 2012 Maria rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Easy-to-read, clear book on writing literary essays and imaginative nonfiction. The author peers into the bones under bestsellers such as Rebecca Skloot's "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," Susan Orlean's "The Orchid Thief" and the work Dave Eggers. His goal is to move writers from dry facts and excessive restraint, into a more imaginative treatment of true-life writing.

Gutkind follows his own rules by including anecdotes and interesting stories from forty years as a professor and writing i
Feb 20, 2013 Brandylien rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing-books
I was actually taking notes from this book, which is saying a lot, because I've read so many books on writing (to keep the advice and "rules" fresh in my mind), and mostly I don't learn anything new really. But what Gutkind, the "Godfather of Creative Nonfiction," has put forth in this book are some really useful techniques and strategies to fine-tune your creative nonfiction piece. One in particular was to whip out the old highlighter. I haven't used one of those in a decade, but I happily ...more
Jan 05, 2013 Karen added it
I enjoyed the book for the most part. I just have a personal bugaboo about authors referencing their own work too heavily. For me, it sounds pretentious and self-agrandizing. I admire Mr. Gutkind and his work, particularly with Creative Nonfiction Magazine. I would have enjoyed more writing samples from other authors (which does happen more frequently in the second part of the book), and less casual references to himself.
There were a few scenes that I thought read very differently than the conc
Dec 12, 2014 Jessica rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
Brilliant book on how to write creative nonfiction, complete with examples from some of the finest essays and memoirs I have ever read. I think the "exercises" could have been a little more action-oriented than they were, but they were just the sprinkles on a learn-by-example cake. Or whatever. A great book for anybody wanting to write creative genres.
Tiina Mahlamäki
Jan 22, 2016 Tiina Mahlamäki rated it liked it
Luovan tai narratiivisen tietokirjan lyhyt ja tiivis määritelmä: hyvin kirjoitettu tosi tarina. Sellaisten kirjoittamisesta kertoo tämä teos, luovan tietokirjoittamisen kummisedäksi kutsutun Lee Gutkindin kirjoittama.

Teos on siinä mielessä onnistunut, hyvä ja vaikuttava, että jo ennen kuin olin päässyt kirjan puoliväliin, olin ideoinut kaksi tietokirjaa, jotka kummatkin voisin aivan realistisesti kirjoittaa ja joita ryhdyin jo hahmottelemaan. Kirja antoi siis hyviä ideoita, nyrkkisääntöjä harjo
Sandee Ferman
Aug 08, 2013 Sandee Ferman rated it really liked it
I found it hard to read, and at the same time easy to read.

Difficult, because even though it's liberally sprinkled with engaging essays, there's enough "I told you so" in there to take away one star in the rating. Some pedantry gets in the way, but not much until the last chapter when Gutkind goes on for pages about getting an MFA in creative nonfiction. An MFA. Seriously? I didn't think the book was geared toward academic degree wannabes (and it isn't). That chapter could have been eliminated w
Billie Pritchett
Oct 23, 2015 Billie Pritchett rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Lee Gutkind's You Can't Make This Stuff Up is a pretty good little book that gives sound advice on writing nonfiction. It has a lot of writing exercises in it to encourage readers to begin to hone one's craft. To be honest with you, I didn't do the exercises, just read the book. But I think if I were to go back and do the exercises and reread the notes I took on the book, then I will be be able to improve my writing. Couple things I will say right away. Gutkind's advice is best when it's about h ...more
Mar 31, 2015 Melinda rated it really liked it
Gutkind provides excellent examples to illustrate his advice, all while modeling how to approach our own work with framework and focus in mind. As he recommends, I plan to read the book again after a short break. It would be impossible to internalize everything from the first pass.
Nov 07, 2016 Yaaresse marked it as abandoned-dnf
Shelves: non-fiction
DNF - Our library closes for extensive renovations this week, and so any checked-out print books will have to be returned to a distant branch after Friday. I got to page 155, and my overall impression is "meh." I'm not interested enough in this book to either speed-read it or hunt down another format.

My purpose in reading it was to better understand why "creative non-fiction" has become A Thing and why its proponents seem to think the good old general term "non-fiction" is no longer good enough
Oct 31, 2016 Kerry rated it liked it
This information is really basic--I'm not sure it's so much of a guide as it is a primer for people who really know nothing about creative nonfiction, including what it is. For those people, it probably serves as a good introduction. For people who have tried their hand at it already and already have the basic knowledge, it's probably a throwaway read.
Oct 26, 2016 Tracey rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in writing non-fiction
An excellent book for anyone who is interested in writing Creative non-fiction. It explains the genre in depth and provides useful tips about how to structure non-fiction pieces using examples to highlight them.
Catherine Griwkowsky
Oct 10, 2016 Catherine Griwkowsky rated it really liked it
An easy-to-understand guide with solid examples.
Sep 20, 2016 Kissiah rated it really liked it
A useful tool that I am certain to return to as a reminder of things to be remembered. Reading this was like taking an inspiring writing class, one that leaves you with something that can be immediately put to paper. While reading, I was also working on a piece, and I must say, it was quite helpful, particularly in creating scenes. Description! Gutkind does not disappoint.
Debbi Mack
For anyone who doubts the maxim that truth is stranger than fiction, I suggest you read this book. It will put all doubt about that idea to rest.

If you are a creative writer, one of the great things about this book is that it empowers you. Non-fiction writing need not be dry and nothing but facts. In fact, writing the truth (in story form) has attained the status of a genre: creative non-fiction.

Lee Gutkind provides many excellent examples of great memoir and journalistic writing that fits the g
Linda Tapp
Oct 26, 2014 Linda Tapp rated it it was amazing
As someone with science degrees, I had very few higher level English classes and no creative writing classes whatsoever so I think I may haves learned much more from this book than most people. I took tons of notes, folded down the edges of many pages and am making plans to read this again. I read almost all non-fiction to begin with so I found this book fascinating. Mr. Gutkind makes the process of writing creative non-fiction look really easy but obviously to write it well takes much work. ...more
May 06, 2014 Mediaman rated it liked it
This is a good book that helps the nonfiction writer with practical advice. It's almost like a textbook in how to write, with a few practical exercises. The problem with the book is that much of the material is not developed in detail--it's more of an outline and almost could be titled "Creative Nonfiction for Dummies." Good points are made but need much more explanation and many more examples. The author tends to only give one example when a big point is made but for a major principle in ...more
Symone Brown
Jul 05, 2015 Symone Brown rated it it was amazing
I've finally finished this book. I was reading it along with doing the exercises. At one point, I stopped doing the writing exercises and read ahead. Just to get it off my reading list, I decided to read to the end and do the exercises later.

Learning more of writing in general, the many guidelines listed go against what I've learned in school. I haven't yet learned anything in Creative Writing at a university, but I'm still fascinated with creative nonfiction. I have an idea but I'm unsure if i
Leanne Shirtliffe
Aug 03, 2013 Leanne Shirtliffe rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Hanje Richards
Apr 29, 2013 Hanje Richards rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
Excellent book on writing Creative Nonfiction, by the founder and editor of Creative Nonfiction magazine.

I would recommend this to anyone who is writing creative nonfiction. This definitely covered topics I haven't seen discussed in other writing books. Very readable. Lots of tips and exercises.

I felt like Lee Gutkind was talking directly to me. He continued to address issues that I have been wrestling with in my memoir writing.

Not the first book I have read by Lee Gutkind and I suspect it will
Jun 23, 2013 David rated it it was amazing
Nonfiction is a huge category of literature. Philosophy, poetry, everything that is part of a culture from fairy tales to the holy books of the great religions is nonfiction. What makes it different from the fiction category is that the quotations should be accurate to what was said, the chronology should be verifiable against facts, and the fundamental rule is the title of this book You Can't Make This Stuff Up.

I am picky about what books become a part of my personal collection, and this is one
Mar 12, 2013 Rita rated it it was amazing
Lee Gutkind was one of the authors I heard speak at the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writer's Conference at ASU a couple of weeks ago. He is inspiring and gritty with what it takes to write creative nonfiction whether it be memoir or a book or article on something of importance to the writer.

There are exercises throughout the book which I ignored on the first read-through knowing I would read the book again, more slowly. Which is exactly what the author suggests at the end of the book.

A must re
Rachel Blom
Jan 01, 2015 Rachel Blom rated it liked it
Shelves: books-on-writing
Here's a book then that at least got the title right: Lee Gutkind (the godfather of narrative non-fiction) makes a passionate plea about not making stuff up when writing non-fiction. Besides that, he offers many more tips and tricks to getting creative non-fiction right. For experienced fiction writers, some of it will be pretty self-explanatory, such as the concepts of scenes, details, etc. But it's a good overview of what is needed to make narrative non-fiction work. I loved the examples he ...more
Oct 14, 2015 Cori rated it really liked it
What intrigued me: This book popped up on Patty's to-read list, and it seemed perfect for my blogging habit.

What I liked: The section on immersion. I also really liked the breakdown of the creative non-fiction dance.

What I didn't like: The exercises were not as helpful as I thought they would be. I also do not think that this style of writing is great for my blog, but it was certainly worth the read.

Favorite quote: “There are facts in all stories that cannot be blurred or changed by perceptio
Robin Riedler
Mar 28, 2016 Robin Riedler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The need to Write Creative Nonfiction

It is easy to become passionate about an issue and after doing a small amount of research to plunge headlong into writing what you are sure is nothing short of genius. Stop. Read this book, maybe twice, then try it again. Or better yet use your piece for the exercises in the book. Your piece will be better for it and you will be wiser for it.
Jan 12, 2016 Catherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Creative nonfiction is the style I prefer for memoirs and other nonfiction. Here is a definitive book on what creative nonfiction is and how to write it. I read this book in preparation for a workshop I presented as a publisher/editor at the Writers on the Rock conference. A colorfully-written book, by the expert on the subject, that includes many examples and exercises. I read the Kindle version.
Gigi Romano
Apr 07, 2015 Gigi Romano rated it liked it
Shelves: print-owned
It was pretty well-written and helpful. I just don't agree with some of the organizational aspects of this book. Some sections I would have preferred to have seen earlier in the book. However, his voice was strong and enjoyable to read, and I did learn something valuable that I can apply to my future writing.
Nathan Cunningham
Aug 29, 2015 Nathan Cunningham rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, writing
The amount of time it took me to finish this book does it a disservice; if I had actually found more opportunities to sit down and read, I likely would be giving this book three or four stars. There are some good tips here on writing and publishing, as well as a useful selection of sample essays. I'm glad I read it, but I'm ready to move on.
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Lee Gutkind has been recognized by Vanity Fair as “the godfather behind creative nonfiction.” A prolific writer, he has authored and edited over twenty-five books, and is the founder and editor of Creative Nonfiction, the first and largest literary magazine to publish only narrative nonfiction. Gutkind has received grants, honors, and awards from numerous organizations including the National ...more
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“As writers we intend to make a difference, to alter people's lives for the greater good. . .this is why we write, to have an impact on society, to put a personal stamp on history. . .Art and literature are the legacies we leave to succeeding generations. We'll be forgotten, but our books and essays, our stories and poems can survive us. . .” 8 likes
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