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Writing Creative Nonfiction

Explore the entire process of writing creative nonfiction, from brainstorming for the perfect idea to getting your final product noticed by literary agents and publishers.
Writing Creative Nonfiction is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 204.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Blasted Phenominal Professor I took the time out of my day to listen to this woman and truly I tell you she is worth your time. Thank you Professor Mazzeo for teaching me how to become a better storyteller!
Date published: 2021-11-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Writing non fiction Well presented, all points to look for. Would have been helpful to add the difference, between types of publishers. But all in all learnt a lot.
Date published: 2021-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous course for the serious writer I loved this class and took a ton of notes. The content was exactly what I needed as a nonfiction writer. The instructor focused on specific writing techniques, issues, and a lot of how-to's, instead of writer 'shoulds.' I wish I had found this course three years ago before I published my first book. Though some some reviews focused on presentation style, I had no issues because I wanted the information. Very worthwhile course and worth the investment of money and time. I watched every minute of every talk.
Date published: 2021-08-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Writing Creative Nonfiction I bought this over a month ago and still have not received a receipt and instructions about how I can access my course. I checked my scam file but found nothing. I called customer service but they were no help: saying they would send it again. It never came either. I have not been able to access the course.
Date published: 2021-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a Great Teacher! I thoroughly enjoyed this presentation. I thought Professor Mazzeo was clear, entertaining and inspirational. Thank You.
Date published: 2021-07-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Writing Creative nonfiction A waste of my time as I find with most of these videos. Looking for real nonfiction with facts, like writing about animals, Pompeii, space etc. Should say something about memoirs or what the emphasis is which does not interest me.
Date published: 2021-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Content! Really helpful content from start to finish. The professor's hand gestures were distracting at first but I got used to them around lecture 20 .... but still, the content was so good that the distraction didn't matter.
Date published: 2021-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Valuable Writing Lessons I can't say this was my favorite course, possibly because I did more "homework" than for any of the other Great Courses with the exception of the Guitar course. I never looked forward to starting it up, but I usually learned something new. The challenges of the assignment gave me new ways to look at my blog, and sometimes the homework turned out to be my blog post, not so much because it had much to do with travel so much as in this odd Covid-19 year, it at least gave me some new angle to explore while treading water as just one of the billions of perfectly healthy people quarantined by bureaucrats.
Date published: 2021-04-12
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The 24 lectures of Writing Creative Nonfiction by award-winning writing instructor and Professor Tilar J. Mazzeo of Colby College, a New York Times best-selling author, are a chance for you to explore the entire process of writing creative nonfiction, from brainstorming for the perfect idea to getting your final product noticed by literary agents and publishers. Filled with helpful tips and techniques, memorable examples from well-known writers, and engaging exercises, it's a learning experience that proves that-with the right instructor-writing creative nonfiction can be mastered, practiced, and enjoyed by anyone with a desire to share his or her personal story.


Tilar J. Mazzeo
Tilar J. Mazzeo

The wonderful thing about creative nonfiction is that from the same facts, we can tell hundreds of different stories. Everyone has a different perspective; simply changing the focus on the imaginary lens changes the story.


Colby College

Dr. Tilar J. Mazzeo is the Clara C. Piper Professor of English at Colby College in Maine and the New York Times best-selling author of The Widow Cliquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It and The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History of the World's Most Famous Perfume. Professor Mazzeo earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Washington. In 2008, she won the Gourmand Award for the Best Work of Wine Literature in the United States for The Widow Cliquot. She is also the author of Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma and Back Lane Wineries of Napa. Her travel, food, and wine essays have appeared in a range of national publications, including Food and Wine magazine. Professor Mazzeo held the prestigious Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Residence position at The George Washington University. Her lessons, exercises, and advice on the art and craft of creative nonfiction have appeared in collections including Now Write! Nonfiction: Creative Nonfiction Exercises from Today's Best Writers.

By This Professor

Writing Creative Nonfiction
Writing Creative Nonfiction


Welcome to Creative Nonfiction

01: Welcome to Creative Nonfiction

Welcome to the world of creative nonfiction. In this first lecture, investigate how something called nonfiction can be "creative," how different perspectives can provide unique ways to tell a story, and more. In addition, preview a road map for the lectures ahead and some of the exciting techniques to be learned....

33 min
Finding the Story

02: Finding the Story

Professor Mazzeo introduces you to the three things that every good story must have: a narrative arc, some kind of conflict, and character. She also guides you through two engaging exercises that help train you to recognize these elements in both short conversations and a single historical photograph....

30 min
Honoring the Nonfiction Contract

03: Honoring the Nonfiction Contract

What's the line between historical fact and interpretation? What are your responsibilities to your memories, even distant ones? How do you write about things beyond your experience and do it truthfully? Find the answers to these and other important questions on the ethical issues and dilemmas of writing creative nonfiction....

29 min
Writing Great Beginnings

04: Writing Great Beginnings

In this lecture, explore how to successfully undertake the hardest part of telling a great story: beginning it. You'll discover the characteristics of a powerful opening sentence, examine great opening lines by famous writers such as Sylvia Plath, uncover several strategies to generate ideas (including the "story starter"), and more....

30 min
Show, Don't Tell

05: Show, Don't Tell

"Show, don't tell"-it's the mantra of creative writing teachers everywhere. But what exactly does it mean? Strengthen the descriptive powers of your writing by tapping into the importance of handling verbs and using more precise words, with insightful examples of both right and wrong techniques taken from published works of creative nonfiction....

32 min
Launching a Narrative Arc

06: Launching a Narrative Arc

Plotting a narrative arc is a part of the creative process that can seem overwhelming even to very experienced writers. But it doesn't have to be that way. Here, learn basic structures-the linear, quest, and frame narratives-you can choose from to imbue your stories with drama and tension....

30 min
Cliffhangers and Page Turners

07: Cliffhangers and Page Turners

Every story needs good pacing, and that's where chapters come in. What does an effective chapter do, and what does it look like? Professor Mazzeo uses a series of examples to show how chapters can effectively deepen your story's narrative arc and-most important-keep your readers reading....

28 min
Building Dramatic Sentences

08: Building Dramatic Sentences

Unpack the technical aspects and secrets of sentences that create pacing and tension. First, investigate the importance of word order in your sentences. Next, explore the effectiveness of compound sentences. Finally, uncover how changing different sentence types in your writing can dramatically alter the impact of your work....

30 min
Rhetorical Devices and Emotional Impact

09: Rhetorical Devices and Emotional Impact

Take a closer look at more rhetorical devices that can dramatically alter the quality and impact of your creative nonfiction. Among the devices you explore: parallelism, anadiplosis (repeating the word at the end of a clause at the start of the next), isocolons (clauses of the same length), and alliteration....

32 min
Putting It All Together

10: Putting It All Together

Here, Professor Mazzeo walks you through the revision process, which is just as important as the actual writing itself. Using the skills and techniques you've learned in previous lectures, you'll take a brief story and explore numerous ways to improve and enhance its sentences, its dialogue, its perspective, and more....

31 min
Revealing Character in Words and Actions

11: Revealing Character in Words and Actions

First, learn why details are so essential to creating three-dimensional characters in creative nonfiction. Then, investigate the stylistic pros and cons of writing from three different points of view: first person, second person, and third person. Your (surprising) case studies for studying the importance of these two topics: personal ads....

31 min
Creating Compelling Characters

12: Creating Compelling Characters

Explore working with characters that don't play starring roles in your narrative (minor characters) as well as unlikable characters no one likes to deal with in real life (antagonists). How do you write about minor and flawed characters that move your narrative along while still being portrayed three-dimensionally?...

32 min
Character Psychology

13: Character Psychology

Investigate the role metaphor plays in revealing the psychological motivations of complex characters. Among the skills you learn are using metonymy (where something associated with an object is used to represent it) and deciding when to use direct discourse (directly quoted speech) or indirect discourse (attributing speech without quotation marks)....

32 min
Getting Inside the Heads of Your Characters

14: Getting Inside the Heads of Your Characters

Focus here on the unique advantages of using free indirect discourse, which provides a productive ambiguity by balancing on the line between a character's thoughts and words and those of an author-narrator. You'll see this at work in an excerpt from one of the masters of the form: Virginia Woolf....

31 min
Using Narrative Perspective

15: Using Narrative Perspective

Professor Mazzeo reveals even more different narrative perspectives you can use to frame your stories and provide your readers with an entry point into your work. After a quick review of "I" and "you" point of views, you'll zero in on three modes of the third-person perspective: omniscient, objective, and subjective....

31 min
Shaping Your Voice

16: Shaping Your Voice

What is an implied author? How do you develop one in your own nonfiction narratives? What is "purple prose," and why is it such a common error by beginning writers? How does it undermine great creative nonfiction? Get answers to these and other questions in this lecture on the power of narrative voice....

30 min
Writing the Gutter-How to Not Tell a Story

17: Writing the Gutter-How to Not Tell a Story

While it may sound counterintuitive, smart creative nonfiction writers know when not to tell something. Discover how learning when to keep quiet can actually be a storyteller's most powerful tool-creating drama, strengthening a sense of suspense, and allowing readers themselves to become active participants in your work....

32 min
Dialogue Strategies in Creative Nonfiction

18: Dialogue Strategies in Creative Nonfiction

Professor Mazzeo reveals how to recognize-and overcome-the challenges of writing dialogue in creative nonfiction, where nothing can be made up. Focus on three keys to good dialogue: using it to intensify character and propel narrative; writing it to sound realistic (but not too realistic), and making sure it's not overwritten....

31 min
Researching Creative Nonfiction

19: Researching Creative Nonfiction

Delve into research, a skill that all successful creative nonfiction writers need to master with real aplomb. You'll learn where (and where not to) look for materials for your creative nonfiction, what to do when you get stuck with your research, how to evaluate the reliability of sources, and more....

31 min
How to Not Have People Hate You

20: How to Not Have People Hate You

As a writer of creative nonfiction, you have an immense responsibility to your subject (and your readers). Investigate ways to tell your stories dramatically and truthfully-all while avoiding conflict with your subject. Two of the tips you learn here: Use comedy extremely carefully and watch out for turning living people into simple stock characters....

29 min
Revising Your Work

21: Revising Your Work

Think a bit more about the revision process. Who are the right people to read a work in progress? What are the differences between positive and negative feedback? How do you manage the complicated feelings behind and investments in your work-especially when facing constructive criticism from your peers?...

31 min
Building Your Audience

22: Building Your Audience

You've finally written the piece you've always wanted. Now what? In the first of two lectures on breaking into the world of publishing, learn how to take a realistic approach to the process, how to determine who your audience is, and how to write a solid book proposal for a potential agent....

31 min
Getting Published

23: Getting Published

Finding out where to get your work published. Deciding which publication is right for your work. Crafting a successful pitch to an editor. These are some of the topics covered in this insightful lecture on the art and crafting of marketing and showing your creative nonfiction to a world of readers....

30 min
Being a Writer

24: Being a Writer

Conclude the course with a look at the habits of effective writers. First, learn several steps you can take to silence your internal critic and survive writer's block. Then, examine seven ways you can make space in your life for writing, including setting concrete goals, reading more, and befriending other writers....

31 min