Tag Archives: writing

Personal Essays, The Ability

Today, I was looking for writing prompts to practice my pen. I opened a list of prompts from the New York Times, and read through some of their reference articles. And it’s here I saw that even the top calibre writers are sometimes not all that good… Every story, even a personal essay (as these were), needs a reason, so there’s some inciting event, drama, issue, problem in the very beginning. But so often that thing is actually trivial and not worth the time it takes to read the words that follow.

In an attempt to engage readers who couldn’t care less, writers begin to do something akin to gesticulating on the page, dramatizing and sensationalizing the same boring thing. But like one of my writing teachers used to say, reality is more interesting than fiction. If something, a story, is not interesting, you just don’t know enough about it or you’re considering the wrong angle.

At some point, we have to put our fingertips to the keyboard or we’d never write, but it’s so important to take the time to discover and think before just typing something. Typing is not writing and grammatically functional sentences are not enough when it comes to creative nonfiction.

Creative nonfiction is a slow Sunday morning’s afterthought while sitting on the front porch with nothing to do but savour the moment, not Monday morning’s coffee-running-up-your-nose necessity reading. In full view, with nothing to impede its birth in the reader’s mind, it simply needs to rise to the occasion. It needs to be better, to be something more.

Reading it should feel like the outer shell of a candy giving way to the syrup-filled centre, an irresistible explosion of sweetness. Irresistible. That’s a good word for the sort of elective reading material that personal essays are always comprised of. It should always be at least that.

Beyond the prospect of a sweet explosion or the fear of a pinch of pain, does anything matter? Without the threat of embarrassment for not knowing, or that of a stock portfolio crash, what prompts reading? Do essays myopic in scope, not because the dancing electrons of stories within are worthless but because the authors have missed the bigger picture (the connection of those particles to life), matter?

My answer is that they don’t. But they should… That is the actual skill; that is the ability. Not the use of literary devices, knowledge of commas or periods. It’s to make a personal essay important to a stranger on a day without prospects or threats.

 

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The Most Important Quality of a Successful Memoir

Today, I want to consider the best quality that a narrator can exhibit while writing a memoir. It’s not a nuanced understanding of words or a crafty way with sentences. It’s not a great memory for outside events and circumstances or the ability to patiently pore over descriptions of minute details. These things are certainly important, and without them an otherwise good memoir might fail, but there’s another quality that is necessary in order for a memoir with all of these virtues to succeed yet.

What is that quality? It’s the author’s level of self awareness! Self awareness is the key to framing unique personal experiences in a way that they can enrich and interest the minds and lives of strangers with whom we might have precious little in common.

I was recently reading the first chapters of a memoir. The writing wasn’t bad–it could have improved with some structural edits, but nothing major. But the pages almost reeked of self-delusion. Small inconveniences were stretched for paragraphs against the background of a life of immense privilege and unusual luck. And yet these foundational building blocks of the very inconveniences that were bemoaned were not even acknowledged.

I personally believe there is no life not worth writing about and no human whose story, given a good storyteller, isn’t good. And yet it takes great awareness to connect the dots and figure out what the story is. In this case, the aforementioned author’s despair had nothing to do with the trivialities of life, but with the immensity of the prospect of having peaked before middle age, being stuck, etc.

It’s important to not only find the maturity to meet and acknowledge such despair but to share it with readers who might then root for the arc to follow, one of rising to the occasion and finding the courage to sail against winds, come what may.

That’s an arc that can inspire anybody. And yet this person entirely missed their own heroic journey.

On that note, my favourite memoir of all time is Broken Music by Sting. You can check it out by clicking the link (Amazon) and you can read an excerpt from it.

Comment your thoughts. Writing to you from my mobile device.

Are WordPress Premium Blogging Themes Worth It?

A simple-looking blog doesn’t have to make big promises about the content inside and it can be a place where you can be you and express yourself in all your multiple facets.

I’ve been a little theme crazy since I started writing on this blog, often changing from one theme and setup to the next, trying to make my blog feel like a cozy second home where I could come and share those thoughts that belonged to the person in between my public and private selves. Not quite room for them in a diary, but also not ones I’d want to broadcast to all of my acquaintances and friends.

A place for ramblings around which a voluntary community could be built!

I signed up for WordPress premium, which gave me the benefit of running ads through WordAds, having my own web address, and choosing from hundreds of free and premium themes, and I really took full advantage of this last, trying many different formats and themes to see which would look best on JUST a good old blog. I wanted to make sure the blog would look the part, as well.

And my recommendation after trying nearly dozens of themes?

Stick to a simple, free theme!

Buy a URL if you want to (though you might be able to snag a cheaper one from GoDaddy or BlueHost and then map it here—you’d have to check that) but I wouldn’t recommend the themes.

In 2018, your blogging competition is often contrived, overly produced, and so often lacking a genuine human-to-human connection. It’s all overshadowed by glitz and glam that means nothing! Instead, a simple-looking blog doesn’t have to make big promises about the content inside and it can be a place where you can be you and express yourself in all your multiple facets, and create those connections and followers on the back of your words, your personality and thoughts, rather than the auxiliary things, like professional-looking photographs or the best-looking theme.

And free WordPress themes are perfect for that. WordPress offers tens of free themes that are already customizable and fully functional, albeit simple, loading properly on both desktop and mobile.

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