I’ve always shied away from anything that could be counted as a personal essay. There was always this little voice inside my head insisting that nobody wanted to hear about my life. I could make up stories, fine, yes, but to share actual truth? Why would anyone want to read that?
But lately (read: during the pandemic) I’ve been drawn to personal essays. I find myself flipping through magazines in search of intimate stories about family, friendships, outdoor adventures, and overcoming abuse. It doesn’t seem to matter what they’re about. I crave these behind the scenes glimpses into other peoples’ lives. It makes me feel less isolated.
After months of reading other people’s stories, I started to think maybe I could try my hand at writing one myself. That inner critic immediately piped up reminding me that nobody cares, but I told myself that writing an essay did not commit me to putting it out into the world. Nobody even needed to know. I just wanted to play around a little in a space outside my comfort zone. Or at least, that’s what I told myself to get my inner critic to shut the eff up.
Giving it a go
Like a good little writing nerd, trying to quell my anxiety about trying something new, I went online and bought a book on writing the personal essay. I read some online publications and blogs on craft. I did my homework. And as I did, ideas started to come to me. The notebook by my bedside began to fill with snippets of memories that might be worked into a narrative.
And then one night, two weeks ago (at A Very Important Meeting), I wrote one. It was about deciding to become a runner after the birth of my second baby, when I was fifty pounds over weight and atrophied from being on bed rest for 4 months. The draft was rough, but compelling.
Then, last week, I wrote another. That one was tougher, as it brought me back to some emotional times I dealt with after college. That one is even messier than the first, but it came in at about 800 words and I suspect that, once I clean it up, it might actually be worth putting it out into the world.
Later for that
Right now I’m not worrying too much about publication. I suppose the next step would be to polish up the drafts I have already, but I’m also staying open to other ideas that float up into consciousness. And all this while prioritizing the new draft of my second novel.
In fact, the novel comes first. Every day I spend a couple of hours on it. But then, when I have time in the afternoon, when I can’t muster any more energy for the novel, if I can find some peace with the dust-bunnies and walk right past them to my desk, I’m writing essays.
It’s shifts like this that make me think I could write and write and write for the rest of my life and never run out of things to explore.
Has the pandemic changed what you’re writing? Or how you’re writing? Have you written any personal essays? If they’re online anywhere, drop a link in the comments below. I’d love to read them. Cheers.