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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

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  694 ratings  ·  89 reviews
From "the godfather behind creative nonfiction" (Vanity Fair) comes this indispensable how-to for nonfiction writers of all levels and genres, "reminiscent of Stephen King's fiction handbook On Writing" (Kirkus). Whether you're writing a rags-to-riches tell-all memoir or literary journalism, telling true stories well is hard work. In You Can't Make This Stuff Up, Lee ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 14th 2012 by Da Capo Lifelong Books (first published January 1st 2012)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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Start your review of You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction--from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between
Olga Godim
Oct 15, 2012 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
Jan Priddy
Oct 14, 2012 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
Elliot A
Jul 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was the only book I kept from my creative nonfiction course and it is the only book I read during the entire course.

I kept it for reference purposes and in case I experience another writer’s block. The examples, instructions and exercises are very beneficial and are well enough designed to return to again and again.

I appreciated the author’s use of extensive excerpts to truly showcase the point he was making instead of vaguely outlining his point and moving on to the next topic.

The author
Feb 03, 2013 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
Feisty Harriet
Jul 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Have you ever had an experience where you finally realize that there is a name for the thing you love? I love nonfiction, I love textbooky history books and dense work on neuroscience, but I also REALLY love true stories about real people and events and places, and there are writers who have the uncanny ability to make those stories come ALIVE in ways no textbook can. I gravitate towards those authors and their work and annoy everyone I meet with recounting the awesomeness of the latest book I'm ...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
Sep 08, 2012 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
Dec 31, 2012 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
Billie Pritchett
Aug 21, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing-guide
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 ...more
Dec 12, 2014 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.
Marsha Altman
Mar 14, 2018 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the opening, when he talks about the development of creative non-fiction journalism, and the end, when he gives a history of scandals, much more than the middle of the book, which is mostly writing advice that I find very obvious.
Sandee Ferman
Aug 08, 2013 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
Dorothyanne Brown
Oct 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
I’ve bought way too many “how to write” books that I’ve parked on my bookshelves and never got around to opening. They sound helpful but are a lot of blather with maybe one good tip among the pages.
This is not that kind of book. I borrowed it from the library, and it’s due today, so I thought I’d have a quick run-through to see if it was worth perhaps adding to my good writing books shelf (it’s quite small) or if I should return it to the library and forget it.
It’s 2 hours later and I have been
Mar 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2017-2-stars
This dense reading was not as engaging as Kephart's Handling the Truth. Gutkind is way too pretentious to self-identify as "The Godfather." His suggestions and methodology are not keen on functional methods of self revision.
Mar 30, 2015 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.
Ed Lasher
Apr 29, 2013 rated it it was ok
The advice was good, if a bit obvious most of the time. Overall, this book felt lazy, as if Gutkind were trying to fulfill a contract. There's also a few too many plugs for his magazine.
Nov 07, 2016 marked it as abandoned-dnf
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
Lindsay Hickman
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Full disclosure I’m a nerd, a bookworm, school loving, want my house to be a library nerd. I’ve always wanted to write a book. I’ve written hundreds of journalism pieces for local news. I’ve taken dozens of writing classes in high school and college and I can tell you now they are all worthless compared to this Bible of Creative NonFiction. Yes, some of it is common sense-like always write, everyday. But many parts of this book are pure gold. If you want to be a writer or just be a better reader ...more
Lori Kidwell
Aug 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing
This was my second attempt at reading this book and again I didn't finish it.

The first half is fine. It's got good stories, good technical advice, and solid practices for getting ideas and writing them down.

The second half is where the author has lost me twice. His advice on how to revise and on "scenes" is not good for me and the way I write.

I've found better ways and techniques from other books on how to revise and rewrite.

But I think anyone who wants to write creative non-fiction will enjoy
Jan 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
I found this to be a useful introduction and primer on Creative Nonfiction. There were plenty of examples of what to do and what not to do, a history of the genre, exercises to develop your own writing, advice for how to move forward in a writing career, and resources for further reading and research. All in all, I found this to be a useful book that I am sure I will keep handy as a reference while finishing my current project and contemplating my next. Thank you, Mr. Gutkind.
Jan 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read excerpts for a creative non-fiction writing course, and finally buckled down and read the entire thing.

Gutkind offers a diverse selection of excerpts from successful CNF writers: Gay Talese, Rebecca Skloot, Jeanette Walls. His breakdown of the techniques used, as well as the history of the genre, are very helpful for both those starting out and those who are already familiar with the writing style.

I am sure I will return to this one again.
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beyond excellent! I loved this book and gained so much insight into the writing process...My guess is he wrote it to help teach a college-level class and it was so well organized it was like I was in the classroom with him. His exercises are excellent in driving the concepts home. This is a MUST READ for anyone interested in writing a creative non-fiction book!
Jul 16, 2019 rated it did not like it
Didn't even finish it. I don't know if writers are just more forgiving toward other writers' work, or what, but I found the good reviews for this book baffling. Very little practical insight, a lot of freaking OBVIOUS tips ("don't lie"), and a few times where Gutkind picks academic fights BY NAME. Who cares, dude? Settle your issues on your own time, don't make me pay for it.

Philip Costea
Jun 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
I don't know if you can read this book and not want to write. "You Can't Make This Stuff Up" is a passionate treatise on finding topics that matter to you and immortalizing them with eloquence. Lee Gutkind - the Godfather - defines the topic, provides clear examples, examines, dissects, and invokes. I wish I ran into this years ago before I co-wrote the memoir about my grandparents.
Mark Hennion
Nov 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Compulsively readable, warm and generous of tone, prescriptive but not damagingly so. The "Godfather" of nonfiction delivers a primer that all writers, nonfiction or otherwise, should consult. This book can be approached topically, by section, or read cover-to-cover and still give exactly what you need. Indispensable for any writer's craft shelf.
Kimberly Patton
May 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book as an informative guide to writing creative non-fiction. This big name editor really knows his stuff and I learned a lot. The last few chapters I skimmed, but loved the timeline listed on the last pages. Super helpful book.
Gail Richmond
Jan 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting writing guide for those interested in creative nonfiction with a strong focus on journalistic writing. The example and language are a bit dated, but a good source for the historical development of creative nonfiction.
Mar 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Nuts and bolts information. Provides a good defense of, and rationale for, Creative Nonfiction as a respectable literary genre.

This might be a helpful book if you rant to make a living as a CNF journalist.
Charles Michael  Fischer
Jun 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
If you're an experienced writer of fiction and/or narrative nonfiction, Part I will be of more interest than Part II, which is aimed at beginners (how to write a scene, the importance of details. structure, etc.)

Apr 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
An in-depth and masterly guide to creative non-fiction - an engaging style from someone who really knows what they are doing. Practical without being patronizing, this is recommended for anyone with an interest in writing their own story well told.
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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
“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. . .” 9 likes
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