My book review of Dinty W. Moore’s Crafting the Personal Essay
In my investigation of “alternative” styles of writing, including everything “flash,” I came across a book edited by Dinty W. Moore called The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction. I was impressed with Moore’s introduction to that publication, so I bought Crafting the Personal Essay, which is the book I’m reviewing here.
I write for online platforms, including this website, two blogs and HubPages (and, previously, Squidoo). Many of my articles are written in a personal essay style but, now that I’m semi-retired, I want to get better at telling my stories and speaking my truth.
Sometimes my “truth” is an honest review of my vintage Corningware. Other times, it’s a more-or-less channeled piece of writing on my former blog “What Life Wants.” I’ve even written the saga of Carlotta the spiny orb weaver spider. And my efforts are pretty good.
But I want to improve as a writer. I want to make a difference as a writer. I want to be known as a writer.
So I read books about perfecting my craft and I learn about the different ways to get my views across. For example, I really enjoy writing 6-word memoirs and have taken a closer look at this genre on my review page for It All Changed in An Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. Here’s one: “Good Writer Striving to be Great.” Try writing your life story in 6 words. It’s fun!
Dinty Moore’s Crafting the Personal Essay opened my eyes to the scope available for writers in the personal essay genre. I hadn’t realized that I could elaborate on my travel and recipe articles to make them feel more like literature. They call it “creative nonfiction” nowadays.
I like that essays can be quite short, as in the case of flash nonfiction. I like that they can ramble in an exploratory, investigative way. I like that they can lead me to conclusions I might not have considered previously. I like that they explore – me.
From Contemplative to Gastronomical…
Moore includes chapters on the various types of personal essays:
I have recipe pages online that I’d like to bump up to the “gastronomical essay” level. On the other hand, they might also fall into the “memoir” group, since a couple of the recipes were handed down from my Finnish grandmother.
How do I capture a life-changing truth on a page about pancakes?
That’s the type of information I’ve been learning in Crafting the Personal Essay. So I’m into rewrite mode and allowing myself to travel down winding roads searching for the nugget that’s to be found somewhere along the way.
I love what Dinty Moore says about revising our writing: It’s not uncommon for me to be six or seven drafts into an essay before I realize, “Aha, that’s what this essay is going to be about.”
Inner Explorations Made Public
Moore’s writing style is easy and clear. The writing exercises sprinkled through the book urge us to dig deeper into our emotions and rememberings. What stopped the clock for us way back when… why do we have trouble remembering what it was? What was that issue really about? Is it time to speak/write about it now?
In his chapter on memoir essays, the author poses many questions for consideration and deeper probing, including “What are you most afraid of?” and “What as a child did you totally misunderstand, but now as an adult see very differently?” Probing, probing, probing.
That’s what writers do.
Dinty W. Moore’s book was, for me, an excellent introduction to the writing of good personal essays. His reminders to revise, revise, revise… and his instructions on becoming an excellent rewriter I found very helpful.
He suggests writing initially with a “child” attitude, playing with ideas and words just to see what develops. Then allow the “adult” in you to ask some tough questions, such as what’s your point here and who will be interested in this. Then at the very end of your revisions, invite your “parents” in to see if your piece will embarrass them or make them proud. But don’t ask for your “inner parent” reviews until you’re done editing.
As Moore says, “the trick is all in the timing.”