Crafting The Personal Essay: A Guide For Writing and Editing Creative Nonfiction

Dinty W. Moore, 2010

Writer’s Digest Books

Moore is wonderful at conveying the essence of the personal essay, which is a rich mixture of opinion, observation and storytelling told through a clear and strong voice. His book is an extended personal essay on the topic of writing personal essays, which, Moore reminds us, is a genre that can hardly be separated from memoir.

He inspires confidence that readers can indeed pull off a personal essay worthy of attention by following their own interests and letting their personalities shine. Sometimes writing about what you want to know is more fruitful than writing about what you already know.

What I like best about the book is the mixture of practical tips on working the craft and illustrations of how the personal essay evolved from its earliest practioner, Montaigne, to the present. Moore loads the text with examples of his own writing. His essay on trying to walk in Boca Raton is both amusing and thought-provoking, and his essay on canoeing on the Rio Grande made me want to make that trip.

He touches on various types of personal essays – spiritual, contemplative, gastronomical, nature and travel, and in the second part of the book offers advice on revising and finding publishers. I found that the most useful elements are the writing prompts that appear at the end of many chapters. I did not hold pencil in hand while I read, as he suggested, but I did try to mentally do the exercises offered and they provided me with plenty of ideas.

Writing a personal essay is working with conflict, Moore maintains. It is the internal struggle that holds our interest as readers. The writer is most alive when exploring what he doesn’t understand.

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