"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

08 August 2007

On the Cost of Writing

I've been reviewing the books I'm using this semester, and last night I was skimming back through Philip Gerard's Creative Nonfiction. In the chapter "Putting Yourself on the Line" he discusses issues in writing about one's self such as finding one's own voice through seeking truth and writing honestly (no cliches!), avoiding egoism by finding universal insights in personal experience, being a reliable narrator, dealing with the instability of memory, considering the reactions of family and friends who are included in one's story. At the end, he discusses the personal emotional cost of writing about one's self:

"Unlike a fiction writer, the personal essayist, the author of memoir, has no buffer, no illusion of narrative distance, between himself and his subject. [. . .] That's the thing about writing your own life: It doesn't work unless you're prepared to come clean. But when you can take a deep breath and address the things that scare the h*** out of you, that drive you to grief you thought was beyond words, that amaze and confound and baffle you, that keep you up at night and give you nightmares, that cause you joy so keen it begs to be expressed, you can come to terms with the truth of your own existence."

Scary is not even close. Terrifying is more like it. But the rewards are commensurate with the risks.

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