Paging through a notebook from my final semester of my MFA program in creative nonfiction, I am reminded of a conversation with a faculty member. I was slogging through the fourth revision to a manuscript of a memoir in linked essays.
Me: I'm getting really sick of myself. If I write one more sentence with the pronoun 'I' in it, I may vomit.
Her: Good. Excellent.
Her: Now start thinking about the reader. Think about how your story can mean something to others. Think about what you have to say, rather than writing about what happened to you.
Not new advice, of course. But sometimes, we hear something again, and the timing is just right.
That advice spurred me to change the openings and revise the endings to several of the essay-chapters. Scenes were edited and got more interesting. Several secondary characters emerged and made big contributions. Hinted-at themes came into clear focus. I began to think of the manuscript as a cohesive piece of work, intended for readers, instead of a bunch of my stories. No vomiting ensued.
The rest of the Gold in Them Notebooks posts, in which I pass on some tips mined from my MFA program notebooks, can be found here.