Literary Liaisons

A blog about writing and all things story…

Exposing Your Personal Essays/Memoirs

Years ago when my cousin Debbie, who was like my sister, got cancer and left this world, I wrote an essay – well, I wrote several, but this particular one circulated the NW newspapers and someone who reads my blog just forwarded it to me today. Funny how things hang around since Al Gore invented the internet. I cringe at the writing, but here it is if you dare….  Seattle Times

When I received this e-mail with the story attached it made me sad for moment, remembering, but then I remembered also that when we write personal essays or memoirs, once written, it’s just material. It’s deep, poignant material, but material just the same. You can’t be attached; like I recall when the papers changed the title of this short essay that was originally titled ‘One Hour’ and then they asked for a couple of edits. Okay, I said. I felt I’d already cried the words, all else was editing.
When people write their memoirs or personal essays, I think they often don’t allow themselves to be open to editing because the wound is somehow precious and holy and should remain undisturbed, experienced exactly, and only the way they have remembered and written it. The problem is; it may not resonate with readers in quite the same way without some tweaking here and there.
So if you are going to put your personal stories out there, then you need to realize they will be critiqued, edited and sometimes misunderstood. One woman wrote to me a few weeks after my essay was published in the Oregonian in 2000 and told me how awful I was to have left Debbie’s hospital room at such a critical time. I really had to step back from that stranger’s perception and realize it had little to do with me. Not the real me and not the real situation. So learn to not take it all too seriously. Don’t let those wounds come back and wound again, and again, as they will now that Al has created this internet thingie.  
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One comment on “Exposing Your Personal Essays/Memoirs

  1. Stephen Hayes
    December 17, 2011

    A wonderful essay. I really enjoyed reading it. I imagine what you say about editing is true. I've never had anything published so I guess I have that to look forward to, but I've had to alter quite a few illustrations in my time. Newspapers were the worst because they often seem to be run by committees.

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This entry was posted on December 17, 2011 by in Al Gore, memoirs, personal essays, seattle times, short story.
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