Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Creative Nonfiction Dilemmas

I struggle when I write personal essays.

The writing isn't the struggle. I enjoy striving to tell it straight and true, discovering real life moments worthy of examination and wonder. It's a satisfying process, from the glimmer of an idea to the first words, from the crafting and shaping to that final bit of polish.

It's good work until that moment when I have to send it off to a publication or editor. If you saw me in that moment, you'd think that my decision to send a story was akin to triggering a nuclear war. It's not the fear of rejection making my palms sweat. It's not my financial situation, either, although if I could afford an accountant I'm sure he'd convince me to reconsider. The closing of my eyes as I face the screen, my finger pausing over my mouse, my stopping and restarting the submission process, all this hesitancy is borne from the fear that I might be misunderstood, that my appreciation of people in general might be clouded because of my words. Worse, I fear that the specific people who are a part of my story might be hurt by my rendering.

In the very best case scenario, someone who reads about themselves through my eyes feels special. That was the lovely reaction of my neighbor (featured here). My husband and parents have been great, amazing actually, understanding that a humorous poke or a family story told is just my point of view. It doesn't negate their memories, their experiences or how they might see the situation. Other people, I know, have a harder time. At least one person has told me that I may not mention him or her by name in anything I write. I can sympathize; I will honor that request.

Despite sweaty hands and 20 minutes of pacing, I pushed the button yesterday, on a story called "Ruined". We'll see where it goes. Until then, I'll keep writing. Maybe I'll search for opportunities to write profile essays. The advantage of that sort of piece is that the subjects know they're subjects. Even with that knowledge, it's still tough.

Loving my genre, yet secretly wishing I was better at fiction, LT


  1. I so see what you mean! I often write about my mother, who has Alzheimer's. She'll never know what I've said and none of it is ever hurtful to her, but still, I'm writing about her and her disease through how it impacts me. Not easy. I guess I'm lucky in a way that no essay has yet been published?!
    Look forward to checking back in here throughout May to see what other doors you open!

  2. That must be very challenging, Lisa, but I've met a few people along the way who have found a lot of value in chronicling similar experiences. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I understand your feelings -- creative nonfiction is so tricky. I write mostly reported and researched stories, but every time I send off a personal essay, I have these same sorts of thoughts, and the worry about creating misunderstanding or hurting someone with a piece has kept me from submitting some altogether. Anyway, look forward to reading your posts during the Blogathon!

  4. Haley, thank you for the empathy, and for taking the time to comment. Best to you!