The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Lifestyles

January 11, 2013

Slate: How to write a memoir

NEW YORK — There has lately been a rising backlash against the ubiquity of personal writing. Hamilton Nolan's anti-confessional diatribe in Gawker claims that journalism students are now taught only to write about themselves, which I can say as a full-time faculty member at a journalism school is patently absurd, but he raised some interesting points about the dubious rise of confessional writing over the last two decades and the market pressure, especially on younger writers, to make a splash, or at least publish something somewhere, by turning to their own, possibly limited, life experience. And then, of course, there were recent critiques of Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of "Prozac Nation," babbling incoherently about her pure heart in New York Magazine.

All of which leads me to believe it may be time to think methodically about what separates good confessional writing from bad confessional writing. It's dangerously cartoonish to say all personal writing is bad, and to automatically attack every writer who dares to delve into his own experience, but there are a million different ways to write personally and some of them are undoubtedly better than others. Here, then, are some basic principles I have come to over the years as both a professor and a writer:

1. The writer should turn her fierce critical eye on herself. (One of the great masters of this is Mary McCarthy, who was terrifying and brilliant in her critiques, even of her own pretentions and snobbisms.) It is always satisfying to read a writer who sharply and deftly attacks the hypocrisies and delusions of the world around him, but we trust that writer more completely when he also attacks himself, when he does not hold himself to a different standard, or protect himself from scrutiny. Take David Foster Wallace's famously dazzling essay, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again." He obsessively, comically, gorgeously dissects everything around him on the cruise ship, but does not exempt himself from his high level satire:

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  • Peace Soup Peace Soup completes 7th year CLINTON -- Peace Soup concluded its seventh year this week. Peace Soup was held for five Tuesdays during the Lenten season. The series for 2014, "Interfaith Connections to Peace," featured the topic of Christianity. Elizabeth Liggett, pastor at St.

    April 12, 2014 1 Photo

  • Milkweed plants Raising awareness of milkweed MAQUOKETA -- The Hurstville Interpretive Center will attempt to raise public awareness about milkweed plants. The center is holding a plant sale for area residents to try to include more milkweed plants in the region for monarch butterflies. The sale

    April 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • Women's club extends sale CLINTON -- The Clinton Women's Club has extended the deadline for the group's annual silent auction. The deadline for bids is through Saturday for the purse and bag silent auction at the George Curtis Mansion, 420 Fifth Ave. South. During this past w

    April 9, 2014

  • Churches band together CLINTON -- Downtown churches will participate in the annual Way of the Cross next week. The 17th annual event will be held April 18 in downtown Clinton, signifying Good Friday. The community is invited to join in this event. Individuals may participa

    April 9, 2014

  • RV to take university 'mobile museum' on road IOWA CITY (AP) -- A 38-foot-long recreational vehicle sponsored by the University of Iowa will soon travel Iowa promoting the state's rich history. The Mobile Museum is expected to make its inaugural appearance in Fort Dodge this weekend, and stops i

    April 8, 2014

  • Woman's event at dealership CLINTON -- Clinton's Harley Davidson motorcycle facility will host a women's event this month. The Ladies Only Garage Party will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at Clinton Harley-Davidson, 2519 Lincoln Way. The Garage Party is a way for

    April 8, 2014

  • Plunge for Landon Community taking a dive for young cancer patient KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Being told to "go jump in a lake" is usually a snarky kiss-off. But it's become a heartwarming call-to-action for a Missouri community whose effort to help the family of a 5-month-old boy with cancer has inspired thousands across

    April 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pot of Gold Funding education CLINTON -- Residents are invited to test their luck and knowledge later this month at a fundraiser for Prince of Peace Schools. For more than 10 years, the Pot O' Blue and Gold Raffle has been one of the major fundraisers for the district. With Princ

    April 7, 2014 1 Photo

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