Read "Confessions of a Mostly Open Book: 10 Tips on Writing About Your Life" where veteran journalist Caroline Donofrio shares her two decades of wisdom on writing the personal essay.
I’m writing a serialized memoir on Substack right now. I’m a beginning writer even as I near retirement age, and maybe that’s why I’m writing more now than I’ve ever done in my life, because I’m on the other side of so much of it. I wanted so badly to be a better writer, and it’s time to share some things I’ve learned even as I continue to grow.
Such a fantastic essay that mothers the writer so well! I especially appreciate how Caroline points out that the reader’s reaction is none of our business. This notion is so very important for our delicate souls to understand. The point of writing personal stories is not to make everyone fall in love with your stuff. The point of writing personal stories is for deeper connection to humanity-- and this sort of magic does not hit 100% of the time. No, it is with an unanalyzable algorithm of mystique that it happens. Thank you for this share ❤️❤️❤️
I love all of this so much. Big fan of Caroline's work, so it's no surprise that her writing tenets all resonate so much with me (the impostor syndrome, the line between vulnerability and exploitation, the writing being balmy af, etc.). Thanks for sharing!
I am in awe of Donofrio. She has youth and intellect at once, both at her immediate disposal. For a few stolen moments, I allow myself a game of “what if.” What if all the opportunities awarded me - some for my youth, some for my intellect, had been used to utmost advantage? What if the motivation I have now - at seventy-two had been mine forty years ago? “What if” - Whew! It’s a dangerous game, I know. Played constantly, it would prevent me from shaking the dust off my emotionally convoluted past - seeing what settles and creating a story that someone will want to read. Instead, time, with its scalpel, has cut away the vanity, leaving nothing but my aching knees and a monstrous drive to show up and write my stories. I don’t have time to be immobilized by age and regret. Thank you, Jane Ratcliffe, and may Caroline Donofrio continue to shine.
Thank you for this! It was exactly what I needed to see right this instant ♥️
I love this reminder: "You have a story to share, and you needn’t have experienced an alien abduction or won Olympic gold or scaled Kilimanjaro to be worthy of telling it."
Such a familiar issue as a writer these days--not feeling *unique* enough
Wonderful list of tips--although they feel more valuable than just tips--to consider. I especially like the thoughts on vulnerability, the boundaries we need, the boundaries we can discard. Thank you for sharing this!
Fantastic - thank you Jane! Spot on and inspiring for I am now writing a memoir of sorts and this is just what I needed to read!
I loved this! It’s pure gold. Really, you and Caroline are two of the most brilliant personal essayists out there! I’m feeling braver just reading this❤️
After reading this, I feel so *encouraged*—as I usually do after reading Caroline’s words!
The Sean Thomas Dougherty poem was new to me, and so perfect.
I love when all of my favorite newsletters overlap! Caroline always writes things that make me nod and say, "Yes, YES! Exactly!" and I appreciate how both of you break things down in a way that makes me consider my own approach to creative problems. This was a great way to start my morning!
Thank you for writing these guidelines, Caroline. Sharing from what I call, a healed perspective, echoes with me and validates the kind of writing I’m doing here on Substack alongside photography and collage. Thank you for that.
Great advice. .
Oh my god, so many comments!
This is such a hard and important series of questions.
I write in the first person in the same way that I write rough drafts on unlined paper. I write about things that touch me and that I may never have answers to. I write so that I may never have to have an opinion. I (try to) write a step apart from my ego. I don't bare all. But I do go to the raw places. I write in the first person so as to escape what I think other people think. And, if I do this well enough, I bring others with me. Or not. It's also the both/and thing. Of reaching a level of personal complexity that you get to be able to write simply. No hiding, no adverbs. Great post!
My goodness this was so encouraging, just starting out in personal essays and also coming from a family that did not share with the world. Thanks!
I love Caroline, her words are always a balm. I am going to come back to this again and again when I feel the need to give myself permission to write. My words flow but the boundaries are firm. Maybe I need to open up even more, be a little more raw and remember that there is "someone out there with
a wound in the exact shape of your words."