The Role of a Nonfiction Writer

If you’ve read the past few blog posts (and you should!), you’ve heard a similar message from each of my fellow editors about what they hope to publish in the coming year: Steve, our EIC, wrote about finding new and interesting perspectives on the same set of stories we all tend to write, Tanya used the word “fresh” to describe the fiction submissions she hoped to see, and Ruben asked for poetry that would spark a fire inside him. We all have our own way of thinking about what makes writing speak to us, and for me as the incoming Nonfiction Editor, it’s all about redefinition.

I think of writing nonfiction as an attempt to redefine the reality we see around us by re-imagining the meaning of the words we use to describe and analyze it. We are writers; we have a duty to language to stretch, test, break, and repair each word we use, until we have created a new space in which we can conceive of the world differently, in which the world really has become different. I think the job of nonfiction isn’t to give readers our unique perspective, but to write in constant pursuit of the perspective we can’t yet imagine. I’m looking for work that does more than tell a story, give an opinion, or recall a memory, as so many of our first drafts do. I want to publish the piece that allows the reader to witness the intellectual progress made within its first 20 drafts – an ability I would argue is exclusive to this genre.

It’s almost impossible to capture this kind of depth in your work if you’re afraid to go toward your writerly preoccupation – that ambiguous, unknowable, itching, and seemingly insignificant thought of which you can’t rid yourself – in an overt and vigorous way. You must chase your preoccupation down, corral it, reach out and invite it into your arms, examine and care for it, let it get away, let it trample you in the process, watch how it moves, what it hides beneath, then approach it again as if you’d never seen it before. You must search for the bottom of what you know is bottomless.

It seems apt to hear from the Nonfiction Editor last. I think we could all agree that nonfiction, though gaining in popularity, tends to be the least read and encouraged of the three main genres. Many MFA programs don’t offer nonfiction tracks, more than a few literary magazines don’t accept nonfiction submissions, and those that do, like Blue Mesa Review, see fewer submissions for nonfiction than any other genre. I would really like that to change. I think creative nonfiction has potential beyond what we can imagine–and it’s there waiting for you to discover it. Go, write, submit.

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Hayley Peterson