What is Drama? Interview with Derick Edgren

How would you define “drama” as a category in creative writing?

First answer: A series of births and deaths. Small ones, mostly.

Second answer: Fun!

What drew you to playwriting? What do you think makes it unique from other genres?

My mother took me to Borders. We sat with stacks of books and magazines. She never read any for long before turning to me to recite something she liked. I didn’t know it then, but she was priming me to treat words on a page as things to which we must give voice and share. To read aloud as we do in the theater. To be wary of too much silence or solitude.

In my mind, there are no hard lines between any genres of writing, but I will say this: I find playwriting to be the form freest of self. In nonfiction, the author is right there, which sounds like a lot of pressure. In fiction, especially when written in third person, the author is also right there, even when pretending not to be. Poetry is certainly more concerned with voice, but most poems limit themselves to one at a time, that of the author-speaker, who is then still kind of right there.

Where is the author of a play? Maybe in the stage directions, maybe everywhere at once. Which is very fun.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about playwriting or the drama genre in general?

That writing plays is not fun. It is fun! And easier than most people think. It is so much easier than you think to make a play. If you can forget red velvet seats, if you can forget act curtains, if you can forget expensive lights and sound and venues, then you can make a play. Some of the most memorable pieces of theater I have seen have taken place in apartments, basements, and classrooms. With scripts in hand. Without costumes. Et cetera. (I hated hearing this in college, by the way.) So if you are curious about going to or writing for the theater, let the spaces available to you inform your making. Write a play for your friends to perform in your living room. Write a play for your community to perform at the park. It’s not all that different than other kinds of writing, except that you are making people read the words aloud. Theater happens everywhere. Don’t discount the tiny or alternative venues. Big Theater cannot stop you from playing and making up stories with your friends. It gets all its good ideas from you anyway.

How does stage production and the presence of an audience affect your writing process?

People are far less inclined to walk out of a live and in-person performance than to put down a book or turn off the television. Doesn’t mean they won’t. There is always a threshold, but it is much higher in the theater, and I’ll say I’m grateful for that.

What advice do you have for someone who is interested in playwriting or just beginning the genre?

Do it! Write a play! Just not the play. Please do not try to write the play. Trying to write the play will prove disastrous. It will paralyze you. You’ll begin to tell people you have made-up diseases like “writer’s block.” Forget about the play. You’ll never write the play. No one will. You will write a play. Let that be enough. Let it be fun.

Feel free to use this part to put anything else you would like to add!

This was fun.

What is Creative Nonfiction? Interview with Ilana Bean

Ilana Bean is an instructor, writer, and MFA candidate at the University of Iowa. You can find her on Instagram (@i.m.bean) and at her website:

Check her out!

What is creative nonfiction? How is it different from essay writing/informative writing?

Creative nonfiction is notoriously hard to define—I actually just texted my MFA cohort to see how they explain it. The first response, from Asha Galindo, is, “a true story filtered through a writer’s brain.” My shortest answer is that it’s nonfiction that prioritizes storytelling. The second was from Larson Fritz who wrote, “For whatever reason, the idea that nonfiction can do the things other art forms do- reach toward a more dreamy, murky place- doesn’t come naturally to [people.] One of my basic obvious answers is that ‘creative nonfiction’ tends to be structured around the stuff of literature – image, metaphor, association, memory, scene- as opposed to ‘objective’ or direct dispensation of fact or argument. Cnf dramatizes; nf proposes, tells, etc.’

I think of essay and creative nonfiction as existing on two different axes—one that refers to how a piece relates to truth and, and one that refers to the structure of the writing.

When I say essay, I’m referring mostly to literary essays, rather than a five-paragraph assignment for school. I think my idea of an essay has been shaped by NWP’s John D’Agata, who describes it like this “an art form that tracks the evolution of consciousness as it rolls over the folds of a new idea, memory, or emotion. What I’ve always appreciated about the essay is the feeling that it gives me that it’s capturing that activity of human thought in real time.” I think of an essay as a form that describes the mind at work as it untangles something. I think of it as looking at some object or event or phenomenon and trying to understand it from all angles.

A poem can be creative nonfiction; a novel can be an essay. I have no idea what anything is.

What drew you to non-fiction writing? What do you think makes it unique from other genres?

Creative nonfiction is so undertaught, so I didn’t even know it was there for a long time. Every now and then, I’d find it out in the world—on This American Life or in Roxane Gay’s collections—and I would think: What is this? Whatever this job is, it’s the one I want!

I loved poetry when I was in college, and especially prose poems. The poems I read and wrote kept getting proseier and prosier because I actually wanted everything to be creative nonfiction—I just didn’t really know what that was. When I finally took a creative nonfiction workshop my senior year of college, something clicked. I had all of these long word documents of images that I kept trying to write into poems that wouldn’t come together, but when I put them in an essay, they finally made sense. It felt like a form that really matched the way my mind wanted to process the world.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about nonfiction?

There are so many misconceptions! My pet peeve is when people think that a nonfiction writer is just going about the world transcribing whatever has occurred. Sometimes if I ask students why an essay had a certain ending, they’ll say, because that’s what happened. So what? An infinite number of things have happened. Billions of things happen every hour of every day. We’re all curating a reality all the time by paying attention to an extremely small fraction of them, by contextualizing them in particular ways. Creative nonfiction still requires that you create a narrative, just like any other genre—you still have to develop characters and demonstrate their motivations and establish conflict and offer some type of resolution. The world does not spit out fully-formed essays that you just catch out of the air; there’s a lot of craft that goes into it. On a similar note, creative nonfiction doesn’t all take place in the realm of thought! I think people often expect it to be all analysis and reflection, but I find it much more exciting if you’re working with scenes.

The other misconception is that creative nonfiction has to be about a really huge life event or an exceptional tragedy/accomplishment. An essay can be about anything: a conversation you had with your neighbor while waiting to pick up pizza, a sparrow’s nest outside your window, a pair of shoes that went missing when you were six. These daily experiences are the bulk of life, and I think often contain something interesting within them. If you stick with an ordinary image long enough, you can usually find your way to real emotion in a much more surprising and satisfying way.

How do you approach balancing speculation and reality within your work?

I can’t speak for all CNF writers, because I know so many who approach this in different ways. Personally, my work is mostly true—it’s true like a story being retold at a party. I might composite a couple side characters or conversations to make the narrative run smoother, but I don’t change anything major. I also only take creative liberties with personal narratives—I write a lot about science, and I’m never going to make up something baseless and poetic about microbiology.

Speculative nonfiction has been a big topic of conversation over the past few years, and often people ask how nonfiction could be speculative. I think the real world is actually very speculative. People in real life speculate and dream and imagine outlandish scenarios. The world isn’t just composed of things that are physically happening, but also by the things people are imagining or fearing or misunderstanding or wondering about. You can write an essay that takes place largely in the speaker’s daydream; you can shift your attention to the parts of the world that really are less concrete.

What advice do you have for someone who is interested in non-fiction writing or just beginning the genre?

1) I think the second part of the misunderstanding question is one of my answers to this—

2) Be honest! This is not a free pass to be rude or offensive, but to write about the world the way you really experience it and not the way you feel like you’re supposed to. I think this can be particularly daunting in creative nonfiction, because whatever you write may shape the way readers think of you (even though a creative nonfiction speaker is only one small part of a full person)—so it’s tempting to always say the right thing, or the thing you think will make people like you. You are never the only person to have a certain thought or reaction. Think about a time when you knew you were supposed to be happy, but you just weren’t. Writing that down will help people connect to you—and to a truer version of themselves—a lot more than writing a version of yourself that did and felt and thought everything right.

If you feel there is anything else you would like to add!

I find it so interesting that fiction/nonfiction is the delineating boundary that so many readers and writers use to describe what they do or don’t like. Why does it all come down to the question of “did this really happen?” Does it matter that much if it all happened? I guess sometimes it does, but often it seems peripheral to the point. I’d love to hear the other ways people describe their preferences. Personally, I love reading about intense friendships and messy, opinionated narrators. I love mysteries and funny prose and hearing about workplace dynamics in unfamiliar jobs.