I just returned from a rejuvenating and inspiring 3-days at Grub Street‘s The Muse and The Marketplace literary conference in Boston. I live in Boston so it wasn’t to much of a hike. The sessions were all fantastic and the panelists gave me so much information that it’ll probably take a good week to digest it all. I even got to meet and listen to Amanda Palmer give a very touching Keynote address.
On the last day of the conference I attended the session called: 10 Steps to a Kickass Essay, hosted by Ann Hood. You can find her on Twitter: @annhood56. These writing tips were so insightful that I wanted to share what I learned with everyone. Here are my notes. Feel free to steal and share as needed.
1. Write like an orphan.
Hold back emotionally.
If your motive is revenge, no one will want to read it. Those type of essays lack depth.
If your writing about someone who was died, don’t mythologize the person.
2. A personal essay is about just one thing. Only one topic.
3. Every personal essay is really two things: what’s on the surface, and what bubbles underneath.
External thing + Internal thing.
Make sure there is a concrete story.
4. Make sense of the events. You don’t report them, you make sense of them.
Open the essay with event. Don’t trick the reader or leave it until the end.
When writing about a hot topic, write it cold.
You report, then you reflect
5. Push past the ending that makes sense.
Add a line or two after the closing sentence.
Go beyond the Norman Rockwell ending.
6. “What do you know now that you did not know then.”
Force yourself to come to a realization.
7. Power of Once. The use of flashback. Don’t top load the essay in flashback. If you start with a flashback, the whole essay will be in the flashback.
8. Objective Correlative: The author uses an event or an object to stand in for an emotion.
9. You need to write well! A personal essay is not a bundle of emotions. It’s not a journal entry.
10. Don’t write what you know, write what you don’t know about yet.