Crafting the Personal Essay: A Review

“It is not what happens to us in our lives that makes us into writers; it is what we make out of what happens to us.” Dinty W. Moore penned this statement in his book, Crafting the Personal Essay. Moore has written several creative nonfiction books and published many personal essays. Moore is now the director of Ohio University’s undergraduate and graduate Creative Writing program, and his experience with teaching greatly affects his writing.

I was assigned Crafting the Personal Essay in one of my UTC creative writing classes, and honestly, I simply expected just another text book—dry reading that I would have to sift through simply for a grade. However, the wisdom behind Moore’s words astonished me, and inspiration quickly ensued.

One of the most impressive elements of Moore’s work is the context he gives for the Personal Essay as a genre. He lays out the conversation people are having today regarding the personal essay in an accurate and understandable way. Moore explains that some believe the genre is “naval gazing” and self-centered. However, he persuasively argues that this genre is concerned with developing the writer as a human being, and that this development is extremely important. He also puts the personal essay in a historical context by referring to ancient and brilliant essayist such as St. Augustine and Thoreau. This genre has existed for centuries, which means that it should have some position in culture.

In addition to this impressive argument that Moore puts forth, he provides encouragement for the beginning writer, writing exercises and prompts, and tips on how to fight writer’s block. Crafting the Personal Essay is a brilliant guide toward success. I walked away from reading it with a new desire to write and fresh ideas about topics. Moore’s words have given me freedom to produce terrible first drafts, and receive hundreds of rejection letters. He has provided information on how I can grow as a writer, and how I can make my own life seem somewhat interesting. I would recommend this book to any aspiring writer because the tools Moore provides are priceless and useful when attempting to write creative nonfiction.

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Horror Stories: A Literary Tradition

In order to welcome Halloween, here are a few classic horror short stories worth exploring. These Victorian writers are particularly interesting, and their work is old. However, many of the stories these men wrote paved the way for the modern horror we see in bookstores this time of year.

The first of these writers is M.R. James. James attended King’s College in Cambridge, England in 1882. After graduating, James became Provost. He enjoyed writing ghost stories purely for entertainment, and at Christmas time, James would invite students up to his study to listen. The students would nestle down around a fire with hot drinks, and eagerly listen to James relay his stories. This tradition continued for years, and his first compilation was published in 1904. M.R. James’s best ghost stories include:

  • “Lost Hearts”
  • “The Ash-Tree”
  • “Number 13”
  • “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”
  • “The Rose Garden”

In addition, H.P. Lovecraft, a contemporary of James, used similar writing techniques. Both of these stimulating writers engage each of the senses, causing the reader to literally cringe over certain descriptions. Lovecraft strikes fear in his readers by showing them the horror of the unknown. People are only afraid of what they cannot understand, and Lovecraft reminds you of this buried fear. Some of Lovecraft’s best tales are:

Both James and Lovecraft played major roles in bringing the ghost story tradition to life in the 20th Century. They inspired famous horror writers of our time, such as Stephen King, and BBC still airs cinematic versions of James’s stories in December.  We should remember their tradition whenever Halloween costumes plague the racks at Wal-Mart or when Paranormal Activity -15 comes out in theaters. Let’s make this Halloween a classy one, and remember a couple of the writers who inspired the modern horror story tradition.

An Eager Listener’s Thoughts

Another beautiful piece of art has emerged from a simple barn in Illinois. Andrew Bird’s self-recorded new album, “Break it Yourself,” was released to the public on March 6, 2012. From the album art, to the intricate well-written songs, Bird’s new album is a wonderful piece of art that should be listened to and celebrated by music-lovers.
Although Bird’s new songs contain his iconic whistles and violin-plucks, the overall mood of the album seems less mellow and more energetic than his previous “Weather Systems” and “Armchair Apocrypha.” The vivacious musical details that fill his songs on “Break it Yourself,” provide a refreshing experience for the listener.

In addition, many of the lyrics to his new songs seem a bit more relatable than the ones in his previous albums. Specifically, Bird’s songs “Eyeoneye” and “Give It Away” revolve around a common love-subject. The subject is relatable, and the words are still well written without cliché. Bird’s musicianship and lyric-writing abilities show their true potential through “Break it Yourself,” and should leave understanding artists in awe of his talent.

According to Stephen Thompson and his “First Listen” review on NPR Music, listeners must prepare themselves to experience Bird’s new album. Thompson accurately instructs: “Clear away any and all distractions, listen on headphones and let its subtle charms sink in slowly. Early mornings or late nights work best. This isn’t a record for chaotic commutes or busy offices – these are songs of quiet contemplation” (NPR Music). Thompson completely embodies the ambience of “Break it Yourself” through this statement. Bird’s music is like a tapestry woven together with different unique detailed instrumental sounds that create one beautiful piece in the end. Luckily, this type of art is not only seen, but experienced, and can set the tone for an entire morning or evening. So, kick back with a cup of tea, put this record in, and let Bird’s music take affect.