Crafting the Personal Essay

by katystreet

By Dinty W. Moore.

Another book about writing personal essays. I did not like this book at first, or rather I did not feel like Dinty Moore was an appropriate expert to give me advice. This probably had something to do with his style or tone which simply did not jive with me, unlike Philip Lopate’s which, though I thought a lot of what he had to say was a bit silly, at least had more ethos to me. However I stuck it out and came to respect Dinty. Throughout the book he applies the lessons he is trying to teach to a sample essay of his. This felt a little contrived but the final essay, which he reveals at the end, is actually very good.

This book contains a lot of prompts, which I mostly ignored, and a couple sample essays, which I read.

His advice seems solid. He talked less about the expository nature than Philip did, more about retaining your reader’s interest and different styles of essays (lyrical, spiritual, humorous, etc.) However, he too thinks that most personal essays require the writer to be dealing with his thoughts and conflicts; he refers to this as ‘chasing mental rabbits’. In many ways the book is probably more useful to help people who aren’t sure what to write about, though he also gives a couple pithy case studies in students who have topics but refuse to include conflict or some other driving force.

It was a quick read and worth it, even if just to get a sense of what one of the best-selling books of this nature has to say. I’m not sure I’ll be reading more of these, though. Instead I will read some classic personal essays and try to tease them apart for guidance.