Book Review: Crafting The Personal Essay

Crafting The Personal Essay:  A Guide For Writing And Publishing Creative Nonfiction, by Dinty W. Moore

When a writer has been given or has chosen for himself the name of a tasty can of beef stew, there is little choice that he has other than to engage in the craft of creative nonfiction.  Having read a book by the author before [1], I had a good idea of what to expect in that I did note expect the author to be completely serious.  To be sure, he was not serious here, although he proved himself more serious than he has been on other occasions, and as a fellow author of personal essays I found much to appreciate in this work.  Besides the fact that the author has a certain sense of humor that many readers will know about going into it, there is also some serious advice and counsel here that is worthwhile and enjoyable.  This is an author whose struggle to find his own voice as an essayist informs his help of other writers seeking to find their own voice in the various different types of personal essay [2].  The result is a book that is likely to be of practical benefit to the reader, and one at about 250 pages that proves to be a reasonably quick and enjoyable read.

The structure of this book means that readers who are not interested in writing all of the kinds of personal essays could pick and choose among different topics if they wanted, but as there is a uniform thread of the author working on his own entertaining personal essay on the hazards of being a pedestrian in Boca Raton, Florida, the reader is best served by reading this book as a whole.  The first and larger section of the book consists of eighteen chapters on writing the personal essay.  Here the author discusses the exploratory assaying that takes place in a personal essay, reminds us that it is personal and not private, and gives examples of many types of personal essays from the memoir essay to the contemplative one, from the lyric essay to the spiritual essay, from the gastronomical essay to the humorous essay and then the nature and travel essays.  Additionally, besides discussing the subgenres of personal essays, there are many other inset chapters added that provide discussions of notable personal essays written by such important figures as Montaigne, Woolf, Agnes Repplier, and a couple of the author’s own efforts.  Rather than writing what we know, the author urges people to write what they wish they knew, and so expand themselves in the process of researching and writing their essays.  In the shorter second part of the book the author gives advice on how writers can better reach their readers through establishing a regular writing routine, honing their essay writing skills in blogs, conquering writer’s block through sheer persistence, ruthlessly lopping and cropping their writing in the rewriting process, and dealing with the inevitable rejection that comes in attempts to have one’s works published.

In writing this book the author makes a strong case for the legitimacy of the personal essay while also acknowledging that many people view the personal essay as often naval-gazing and self-indulgent.  Throughout the whole book there is a great deal of tension in the advice between being true to our own voice and our own perspective as well as seeking to reach a connection with those who read our writings.  In this tension between being ourselves and writing so that we may be understood, the author locates a great deal of the conflict and interest of personal essays and helps to rescue them from being merely diary entries posted online.  In filling together the context that we might understand but that would have to be explained for a reader to make sense of what we are saying, we better understand ourselves and what we are about.  In that way, being a writer of personal essays can help us to become better people, more thoughtful, and with a great deal of self-knowledge that we would not have gained in any other way.  And, since most of those who are good writers are also good readers, the author helpfully provides his readers with a list of thoughtful essays and collections of essays and books about writing to help those who wish to improve their craft even further.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Book Review: Crafting The Personal Essay

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Windows Of Hope | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The 30-Minute Writer | Edge Induced Cohesion

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