I recently read A Personal Essay By A Personal Essay by Christy Vannoy originally published in McSweeney’s and in Best American Essays:2011. It was snarky, dark, and very, importantly true. You can read it here. You should read it. It is a commentary on personal essays. How the saddest one wins. The person with the worst life deserves to be published, and not the writer with the best writing, skills, and talent. It is both a critique on these over the top sad stories, and the editors that publish them and the readers that love them. We all slow down to watch a car wreck. And who doesn’t love to watch the metaphorical car-wrecks of celebrities’ lives on reality TV?
I always believed that it didn’t matter what the topic was to be a good writer. I could read about a shoe and find it interesting if the writer made me. From Montaigne to David Sedaris, we see people pulling off essays about every day, menial life. I find it frustrating when I hear writers say that they can’t write CNF because they have never had anything interesting happen to them. Of course you have, things happen every day. Make it interesting. Write about a Tuesday.
– Carol Glover
“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.