One Year to a Writing Life–Lesson #2

Lesson #2 in Susan M. Tiberghien’s book, One Year to a Writing Life is on writing the personal essay, which seems like a natural extension from the journal.  If you’re already spending time looking inward, why not continue?

Tiberghien recommends these four steps:

1.  Choose and tell:  “choose an experience–” “Close your eyes, go within, and let the experience find you.  When the experience makes itself know, focus and frame it in your mind like a photo: not everything, but the important important part of the experience.”  

2.  Show:  “Show the experience in a second draft.  Show what happened by writing in scenes.  Remember the importance of the first sentence.  Does it interest the reader?”

3.  Polish: “Start to polish your words.  In this third step, you are adding resonance to your essay, as poets do with their work.”

4.  Wait and then Bring Forth:  “Set your essay aside, at least overnight–better still, for several nights or even weeks.  In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke writes ‘Everything in gestation, then brining forth.’  Be patient.  Let your work ripen.”  

Certainly this is good advice for any writing–from an important email to the great American novel. 

The personal essay is a form of creative nonfiction.  In addition to Tiberghien’s wisdom, Robert Atwan notes four components to the personal essay:

“1.  voice:  the essay has a personal voice and is written in the first person.

2.  form:  the essay lives along hte border of fiction and poetry.

3.  drama:  no subject is proscribed. 

4.  truth:  the essay leaves both the writer and reader with a truth–what Virginia Woolf called the ‘fierce backbone.'”

ok–we’re going to take a break from One Year to a Writing Life because I’ll be gone for the next three weeks!  I’m going to a conference and then on a vacation.  But not to worry–I’ll still be posting, but likely about food joints along the way, independent bookstores, or other things that I think are of interest!  Then we’ll get back to the Writing Life once I return home!

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