Just Write

Three Top Pointers About Writing Personal Essays by Kelly Caldwell

From December 2013 issue of The Writer magazine. “In the Classroom” with Kelly Caldwell. 1. Don’t worry about What is My Larger Subject? in your first draft. Just get out of your own way, write the story and let the universal themes of the essay reveal themselves. 2. When you’ve got that first draft, ask yourself, “So what?” and write down the answer. 3. When you reach a point in the essay where you want to make things up because they would be more interesting or more satisfying or just prettier, don’t. This is creative NONfiction, after all, and yes, that matters. Also, those are usually places where you need to dig deeper, because that’s where the richer, more meaningful material usually lies.      

Guest Bloggers

Simple Structure for Building the Essay by Susan Bono, Guest Blogger

Continuing with Guest Blogger, Susan Bono, here are building blocks for writing personal essay, or memoir. Character: you Problem: give yourself a problem Struggle: problem creates conflict Epiphany: after struggle, a flood of new understanding Resolution: what you do differently as a result Many essays begin with a clear, straightforward statement of intent. All essays have an implied thesis and should have a clear angle —a particular way of approaching and narrowing the subject matter.  For example, notice how the following statements could shape your narrative from the start. I want to tell you how ______________changed my life. (Universal statement: this is the basic scaffolding for every personal essay) I learned about ________from ___________. I thought I would never learn to love ____________. We’ll continue this exploration of personal essay and memoir over the next few days with intriguing writing prompts suggested by Susan Bono.

Guest Bloggers

What is personal essay? Susan Bono, Guest Blogger

When you’re writing personal essay or memoir, it’s helpful to keep these words by Vivian Gornick in mind: “Good writing has two characteristics. It’s alive on the page and the reader is persuaded that the writer is on a voyage of discovery.” (Vivian Gornick, The Situation and the Story) Remember, too, that readers want to feel as if they know WHY you are telling your story. It’s not enough for the incidents you’re describing to be exciting or scary or hilarious. Your readers want to know how those events changed you. At the heart of every personal essay is this basic purpose: “I want to tell you how ______ changed my life.” When you attempt to communicate that intention, you are helping your essay become a “quest for understanding and information.” (Lee Guttkind, founding editor of Creative Nonfiction) Once you understand that personal essay is what Tristine Rainer calls a…