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Or to put it another way, at every stop along the way—each paragraph, each transition—we are on a streetcar passing through these four thematic neighborhoods, and Rodriguez has given us a map so we can follow along. The truth about human nature is that we are all imperfect, sometimes messy, usually uneven individuals, and the moment you try to present yourself as a cardboard character—always right, always upstanding (or always wrong, a total mess)—the reader begins to doubt everything you say.Find a Healthy Distance Another important step in making your personal essay public and not private is finding a measure of distance from your experience, learning to stand back, narrow your eyes, and scrutinize your own life with a dose of hale and hearty skepticism. Even if the reader cannot articulate his discomfort, he knows on a gut level that your perfect (or perfectly awful) portrait of yourself has to be false. Pursue the Deeper Truth The best writers never settle for the insight they find on the surface of whatever subject they are exploring.
” Similarly and often just as important, if you are reading a piece of writing and find yourself confused, bored, or frustrated, stop again, back up, squint closely at the writing, and form a theory as to how, when, or where the prose went bad.
Identifying the specific successful moves made by others increases the number of arrows in your quiver, ready for use when you sit down to start your own writing.
Despite this sobering stat, not all publications that run personal essays are this competitive.
Out of every 15 essays I draft, I usually sell about 10. While I’d like to believe each of those 10 is a masterpiece, the truth is, I’ve learned to avoid the common essay pitfalls.
Trouble is, the number of essayists lobbying for space on the page far exceeds the available slots.
For example, The New York Times’ Modern Love column sees thousands of submissions each year — of which only 52 run.Excuse the rather basic transportation lesson, but it explains my first suggestion.An essay needs a lighted sign right up front telling the reader where they are going.” I sit at my desk now, surrounded by versions of paragraphs and pages of this book, considering that question.These four elements—generational conflict between author and parent, the isolation of a writer, cultural norms and difference, and the question of what is public and what is private—pretty much describe the heart of Rodriguez’s essay. And to reveal means to let us see what is truly there, warts and all.Only by focusing on these anonymous readers, by acknowledging that you are creating something for them, something that has value, something that will enrich their existence and make them glad to have read what you have written, will you find a way to truly reach your audience.And that—truly reaching your audience and offering them something of value—is perhaps as good a definition of successful writing as I’ve ever heard.There is a good reason for this: These events can truly shake us to our core. For this reason it is hard to grasp that the account of our loss might have little or no impact on a reader who did not know this loved one, or does not know you, and who does not have the emotional reaction already in the gut.But too often, when writing about such a significant loss, the writer focuses on the idea that what has happened is not fair and that the loved one who is no longer around is so deeply missed. In other words, there are certain “private” moments that feel exhilarating to revisit, and “private” sentences that seem stirring to write and to reread as we edit our early drafts, but they are not going to have the same effect in the public arena of publishable prose.Here is his opening: A year ago today, my mother stopped eating.She was ninety-six, and so deep in her dementia that she no longer knew where she was, who I was, who she herself was.