Recently I read this 20,000 word essay by the late David Foster Wallace. It’s called “Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise” and it was published in Harper’s Magazine in 1996. I’m thinking man this is some good writing and I’m also thinking it doesn’t look that hard to do but then a few jiffies after this thought I am reintroduced to that anchor-like part of my mind that is sensible and serious, and it says of course it’s hard to do, otherwise everyone would be doing it, maybe even you, although I doubt it because you never get around to doing anything except following link after link on that dang computer of yours printing off 20,000 word essays and then reading and re-reading them with a pen to underline your favourite sentences and obscure words you don’t know and won’t even be bothered looking up in the dictionary right next to you.
This kind of piece by Foster Wallace is creative nonfiction. It is factual, and it is told with artistic nous. Creative nonfiction is quite commonly attempted, and sometimes it is better than bad, although the gurus of this sort of writing are few and far between. There are melancholic masters like Sebald and trauma-inducing tellers like Augusten Burroughs and there are harebrained, drug-veined gonzo purveyors like Thompson and even local Australian writers like Giggs and Law have published creative nonfiction pieces that are as enjoyable a read as the best chapter in that novel you’re reading now. But it is still that magical land, that sort of limbo dimension between fact and fiction. A lot of writers are wary of it without being able to pinpoint why, which is silly and stupid, as readers love and cry out for this type of writing.
All you scribblers out there: why so scared, huh?