This week, I started a new writing course centered on crafting personal essays. I enrolled in the class through Creative Nonfiction, a magazine focused on the craft of writing nonfiction stories, memoirs, and essays. The class I am taking lasts ten weeks and covers a broad range of topics geared to honing my ability to write personal essays that engage the reader.
As with any course, it is always fun to meet new people from different walks of life. I am usually impressed by the diversity of spiritual journeys, especially in classes that don’t really focus on spiritual matters. It’s intriguing to see how God is at work in the lives of others.
Naturally, these days COVID and the pandemic are featured topics for discussion and writing ideas. After all, the virus thrown a massive twist in all our lives. There’s much to write about regarding the pandemic, the virus, and the fallout from it.
What are some creative nonfiction stories or personal essays you’ve read that are on your favorites list?
You may be wondering what exactly is a personal essay? Great question!
A personal essay is a short work of creative nonfiction. Personal essays are marked with a sense of intimacy. They provide readers an inside look at the writer’s world. Presented in a conversational style, there are really no boundaries boxing personal essays in. They run the gamut, are frequently conversational, and unconventional. They tell true stories about real people. They should tell stories that are exciting for the writer and engaging for the reader. The writer must feel an urge to finish telling the story. In the same token, the reader must want to keep turning the page.
One of the most evocative essays I’ve read a number of times in recent years is “The Fourth State of Matter,” written by Jo Ann Beard over twenty-five years ago.
As part of one of our class assignments, I’ve been brainstorming ideas for an essay. Here are a four ideas that I’ve contemplated writing about the past several days:
- My wife, Terri, considers herself an introvert. I’m our family extrovert. Yet, when we go on walks in the neighborhood or hikes along the trail at the Spring Creek Nature Preserve, Terri is the one who greets everyone we encounter with a winsome “hi” or “howdy.” I prefer to keep walking while ignoring the passersby. The other day I jokingly said that I was going to start grunting at people after she greeted them. We both laughed. As a society, we tend to like labels. They help us identify ourselves, our things, and others. The trouble with labels is that they can put things in categories that don’t fully express identity. This is usually truer regarding people than things. A wheel after all is a wheel. People tend to defy the boxes we squeeze them in. Labels and boxes help make us comfortable. They give us a sense of understanding and means of connection.
- Amid the panic of the pandemic, in a moment when we needed church most, local churches, including my home church, immediately closed their doors. Church staff disappeared. Pastors were missing in action. Sure, you could call or text. You’d get a response. But meet in person? Are you crazy? There’s a killer pandemic on the loose.
- I’ve started playing chess again. Earlier this year, I joined a chess class and began going up to the Huffhines Recreation Center once a week to play with other people. I’ve been playing on my phone via a handy app for a while, which is fun in its own way but there’s something better about actually sitting across from a real live person and playing the game of kings. The pandemic has reminded us of the benefit of human engagement. For humans, other people are a necessity.
- When we tell people we are the proud parents of six cats we get weird looks. What’s wrong with you? Y’all are weird. Are you hoarders? People might make that face if we had six dogs or six human kids, but it’s less likely. Upon learning we had six cats our new pastor’s wife quit speaking to us. They have ten kids. People prefer dogs and babies to felines unless you’re talking lions or tigers. Then people might think of us as being cool. Cats are misunderstood and undervalued when it comes to being a human’s best friend.
What are your thoughts on these ideas? Do these essay ideas resonate with you as a reader?
Which idea intrigues you the most?
Writing can be a lonesome endeavor in many ways. However, I have learned over time that writing can also include a collaborative community that helps individuals write better stories. Writing nonfiction differs from fiction primarily in the fact that nonfiction is about real, true events. But, that doesn’t mean that nonfiction lacks creativity. In the contrary, nonfiction stories, particularly personal essays, are genre-bending and afford the author extreme creativity in telling the story that only they can tell.
Praying you have an excellent week in the Lord!
The Devotional Guy™