ABCs of Creative Nonfiction: B is for Bravery

Posted by on Jul 7, 2016 in Uncategorized | 2 comments

CK3“You have to be brave to be a writer.” My mom told me this halfway through my second year of grad school as I called her, blubbing incoherently about my looming thesis deadlines.

My mom is not a writer. But she was right.

To write good nonfiction, whether it be memoir, essay or journalism, you have to dig. You have to turn yourself inside out. You have to stare down things that terrify you until they back down, or you figure out how to present them to the world with grace.

Though they seem similar on the surface, bravery is not honesty.

Honesty is a good therapy session. It’s admitting your ex-boyfriend might be gay. It’s fessing up that you don’t floss. It’s what you choose to say after two heavy pours at happy hour. Anyone can be honest.

Bravery is not confession either. Confession implies deep-seated guilt, an expectation of shock, the request of forgiveness. It is bravery’s much weaker cousin. Confession has a conscience, but not a backbone.

Bravery is bigger than honesty, and stronger than confession; and of the three, is the only to hold up in the long haul. Not everyone can be brave, because to be so requires hard work. Cheryl Strayed says in her Dear Sugar column, “Be brave enough to break your own heart.” I’d go further to say we must be brave enough to break others’ hearts too.

Good nonfiction requires tough decisions, never taken lightly. We can choose to hurt, expose, laud people with our words. Or we can choose to censor the real story for the sake of ourselves or others. Both take bravery. Bravery means tackling the uncomfortable, but only when there is reason to do so.

So how do we be brave? First we confess — to ourselves, our families, to whomever will listen. Then we put honesty on the page without filter, without regard for others. Then, when everything is out there, we edit. We cut what doesn’t further the story, what is self-serving. We choose to be judicious with words and we present only what needs presentation. And we do it with grace.

Bravery won’t get you anywhere with commas. It won’t help you with story or structure or character or voice. But it will act as primer. It will make you a writer who makes others feel less alone. And I think that’s the point.


Chels Knorr lives in Phoenix, Arizona. To make money, she edits. To spend money, she travels. Thanks to SPF 50, she spends a lot of time outdoors. She takes her beer dark, her essays short, and her lunch before 11. She wants to spend her life telling (mostly) true stories. Find more at here or on Twitter.

2 Comments

  1. What a beautiful, insightful piece. Love it!

  2. Love it!

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