So here’s the thing, I’ve got baggage. It’s not cute or quirky, and it doesn’t make me a tortured artist. It gets all jumbled together in the front of my brain where I’m trying to sort through the setting description for the fiction I’m writing (well, trying to write).
You may be thinking, “Jennifer, everyone’s got baggage. It’s part of being human. Don’t act like yours is special.” And you’d be right. Everyone’s got baggage. Everyone’s got issues, and that’s why I want to talk about creative nonfiction, or CNF. When I took my first creative writing class and was introduced to CNF, I thought, “The whole reason I write is so I don’t have to think about me. My life is boring. Why would I write about it?” And then I started writing about it.
I wrote about the toxic relationship I had recently left. I wrote about feeling lost without my hometown reputation dictating who I was. I wrote about the deaths I saw on a nearly yearly basis throughout high school. All my baggage came tumbling out of its suitcase, and it felt incredible. I physically felt lighter.
There are many others who have also talked about how writing about our baggage helps to lighten the load. The author of one article explained that the relief of writing it all down doesn’t come from catharsis alone. “I imagine catharsis as an evolutionary adaptation, nature’s mechanism of positive reinforcement. Catharsis feels good, so writers seek to recreate the experience, in this case by continuing to write about troubling experiences. This initial purge can lead to mulling over, which results in new ways of seeing old problems and an evolution of thought.”
Counselors have also weighed in on the topic. One decided he should take his own advice and try creative writing. He ended up sorting through the baggage that 100 hours of counseling hadn’t gotten to. Yet another article stressed that writers in particular could benefit from CNF. It states, “Authors can benefit from this because their jobs are filled with doubt and fear and imposter syndrome and all sorts of feelings that often can’t be expressed, for fear of damaging their brand, or their work or their income.”
Once I started writing about my damage, I couldn’t stop. I wrote letters that I would never send to the people who hurt me. I wrote journal entries to myself, asking my future self if we would be okay, pleading with my past self to hold on, reflecting with my present self if we were really happy. The longer I wrote and let everything spill out onto the page, words and tears alike, the more often I could say, “Yes, Jennifer, we are happy. This isn’t where I thought I’d be, and I’m scared, but I’m happy, and I think, someday, I’ll be okay.”
Creative nonfiction is in no way a substitute for professional help, and I am in no ways an expert. However, CNF helped me, and it helped me a lot. If any of this resonated with you, give it a shot. Go ahead and put your bags down for a bit.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Here are some CNF specific writing prompts if you’re not sure where to start.
Or if you want to see what CNF looks like on the published page, check out Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot
Meet the blogger:
JENNIFER FRITTON is a junior BFA student at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. She’s working towards a degree in Creative Writing and is looking forward to her retirement in 70 years.