4 min read

Writing Creative Non-fiction from the Heart

Writing Creative Non-fiction from the Heart

At Hire a Writer, we have “Two Things Tuesday.” Every Tuesday, Joy comes up with a prompt that requires all of us to answer two things. I look forward to Tuesday for this reason. Even though I’m a full-time data scientist and my work is so technical, I can think creatively when I get that message in Slack for Two Things Tuesday.

On May 30th, I checked my phone after work and saw the prompt, and I knew I had to take some time to think about it. 

What would be the name of your autobiography? 

What would be the opening sentence? 

After working on tedious SQL and Python programming for 10 hours that day, I welcomed these questions with open arms (and an open mind).  I’ve written before about bridging the gap between technical and creative writing. I didn’t have to think long before I came up with my response:

Life Beyond Numbers

It took me 26 years, 10 months, and 6 days to stop counting.

As soon as I typed the words, I knew I needed to pursue this story. Yes, I’m typically a technical writer; I deal with numbers, statistics, and calculations all day - but this month, I had a chance to showcase something creative, and I’d like to share the beginning of Life Beyond Numbers.

What is Creative Non-Fiction?

First, I want to preface that this is a creative nonfiction piece. If you aren’t familiar with it, creative nonfiction writing is grounded in a story based on actual events. This writing style can include anything from a memoir to a personal essay and literary journalism. 

If that still doesn’t clear things up, here are some examples of popular creative nonfiction pieces (and specifically some of my favorites):

  • The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
  • Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Writing from the Heart

When I write creative nonfiction, I write from the heart. I write from my personal experiences, challenges, struggles, and successes. Depending on my feelings, a story can be told from different viewpoints. Writing creative nonfiction allows me to explore current and past events from another lens. 

On May 30th, Joy’s prompt planted a seed in my head. I have let it grow since then, and here is the beginning of the output:

Life Beyond Numbers

It took me 26 years, 10 months, and 6 days to stop counting. I can look back as far as I remember and see myself calculating everything. At first, it was cute - counting the number of Skittles in a bag before I ate them, beating the cashier to the total at the grocery store, but over time the obsession took over. 

I knew something wasn’t right, but I told myself I liked math. I was a mathlete in school - a GNT  (geek nerd and turd)., as my uncle would refer to me not unkindly. Unfortunately, there comes a point when the mind takes over. 

2 slices of bread = 180 calories; 2 Tbsp peanut butter = 200; 1 Tbsp of jelly = 50. Other kids saw a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but I saw numbers. Did you know that a calorie is the energy released when your body breaks down (digests and absorbs) food? 

I didn’t for the longest time. All I understood was that more calories meant gaining weight. Gaining weight meant taking up more space and drawing more attention to yourself. 

When depression hits, it hits hard. Wanting to disappear was my only desire. I’m not a magician, but my theory was if I was good enough at math and manipulating numbers, I could get close enough to disappearing. 

For 26 years, 10 months, and 6 days I obsessed over food, weight, and calories. I destroyed my body, and eventually, it was ready to give up on me. For ten years, a  hospital was home. You would think that you could snap out of it when you hear your little brother tell the doctor that he’s scared you won’t come home. But no. I was one of the most intelligent people in my high school, college, and graduate school, but even though I masted the numbers in statistics class, out of the classroom, the numbers controlled me.

I remember crying over a bowl of lettuce because that was 25 calories over my self-imposed limit. I recall running until I passed out during track practice. I couldn’t identify the truth because the numbers made me see life through a funhouse mirror. 

Fast forward to April 1, 2020. My grandfather passed away. He did everything he could to fight but still couldn’t beat the cancer. Who was I to throw my life away when his own life was taken prematurely? 

So on April 1, 2020, I stopped counting. A piece of bread was a piece of bread. A bowl of ice cream was dessert. Food was fuel. Calories were energy. I don’t know how to describe it other than this - you’re in a room, and the walls look red, but everyone around you is telling you they’re blue. Is everyone crazy? The logical answer is that you don’t see the truth, so your life depends on accepting that the walls are blue. Every day, every hour, every second. You trust that the people around you aren’t letting you down and that they have your best interests at heart. 

Like the Myth of Sisyphus - you’re pushing a boulder up a hill day after day, and it continues to fall back on you - but you have to imagine Sisyphus happy. That’s the only way it works. That’s the only way to keep fighting, especially when the numbers are so strong.

Becoming A Creative Writer 

Two Things Tuesday is something I look forward to every week. I may continue writing Life Beyond Numbers or leave this as a short personal essay. It’s not about the length - it’s about the heart behind the story. Creative nonfiction is an art, and you need to be a certain kind of writer to execute it effectively. Contact Hire a Writer today to work with a team of skilled writers who know how to tell any story.

Tips for Using Metaphors in Copy

Tips for Using Metaphors in Copy

Copy and poetry don’t have a lot in common. In fact, they might be more disparate in purpose than any other two types of writing. While copy...

Read More
Language Alive: The Magic of Sensory Writing

Language Alive: The Magic of Sensory Writing

Sensory writing sparks a reaction, adding bursts of flavor to copy that might otherwise lull readers into a slumber. Sensory language engages the...

Read More
Learn from Mistakes: Overlooking Banned Books in Writing

Learn from Mistakes: Overlooking Banned Books in Writing

Making mistakes is an integral part of the writing journey. Each misstep presents an opportunity to learn and grow. A lot of writers make one crucial...

Read More