Lee Gutkind, Editor/Writer/Teacher/Filmmaker
Lee Gutkind is the founding editor of the anthology series Creative Nonfiction: The Literature of Reality, a teacher, filmmaker, and an award-winning author/editor of over a dozen books. He’s often been called “The Godfather behind Creative Nonfiction.”
Here is my exclusive interview with Mr. Gutkind:
Mike: What is the best piece of writing advice you ever heard?
Gutkind: That you need to build a habit of writing. To write every day and on a schedule.
Mike: Should you edit your work during the process or after you’ve finished?
Gutkind: Every writer has his or her own way of doing it, a way they’re most comfortable. But I would suggest you be like a sculptor. First get your big block of clay on the table and let your imagination run wild. Be expansive. Go off on tangents. Be creative. Experimental. Just let go. Don’t worry about editing. Just make it come alive. Then, once everything is there, slowly chisel it down piece by piece.
Mike: What quick hits could you give to my members so they can improve their writing immediately?
Gutkind: Everybody wants quick hits today. The thing is, Hemingway didn’t learn from quick hits. He learned by reading the great works. Unfortunately, all the quick hits, like reading as much of the great works as you can, take a long time. But it’s very important that you learn to read not just as a reader but as a writer. I focus on this in my workshops. By this, I mean to look at it through the eyes of a writer. With a critical eye.
Mike: What books have influenced you the most?
Gutkind: Thomas Wolfe’s and Ernest Hemingway’s books struck me during my youth. Hemingway’s ability to tell a story, as well as to go back and forth from fiction to non-fiction, using the techniques of each in doing the other, was just amazing to me. Later, Gay Talese’s “Fame & Obscurity” changed the way I viewed nonfiction writing. It’s like a Bible to me now.
Mike: What makes great creative non-fiction?
Gutkind: The passing along of information using great storytelling and poetic writing. To write in scenes. For storytelling techniques, I’d advise your members to read my book, “The Art of Creative Nonfiction.” For poetic influences, read the works of Diane Ackerman, Annie Dillard, and the first parts of Talese’s “The Bridge” or his incredible piece, “Sinatra Has A Cold.” Contrary to popular belief, poetry is closer to nonfiction than one might imagine. On the most basic levels, poems are, in essence, nonfiction: spiritual and literal truth told in free form or verse.