Thursday, August 27, 2009

Gold in Them Notebooks, Part 8. Nonfiction Blues: I, Me, My, Mine

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.

Me: Huh?

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.


Michelle O'Neil said...


Sometimes when I think of "the readers," and what they might learn, my work starts to sound preachy. I do love playing around with openings and endings though and I think what you have to say about making a manuscript a cohesive piece of work intended for readers makes sense.

Love your Gold in Them Notebooks posts! So much food for thought in them. Thank you!

Susan Bearman said...

Perfect advice at this time, as my nonfiction has been overflowing with the first person pronoun. Thank you.

Houston A.W. Knight said...

I write my main thought is to keep it understandable for my readers.

Love the notebook post! Awesome.