Veronique Darwin

Whiniest Prose

In My Writing, Teaching on October 8, 2013 at 7:00 am

Personal writing is just whiny writing. It’s what you make when you can’t fold things beautifully, when you figure that a handmade card is okay because at least people can be sure it’s from you. Personal essays are never trashy because they’re honest. But are they ever any good?

Lena Dunham’s character in Girls is writing a book of essays. It’s what I love most about her character. It seems to be the show’s joke: she has a self-inflated sense of importance in what she has to say, at twenty-four, without a job. Then again, Lena Dunham is in her twenties and is writing and starring in the award-winning, huge show Girls.

I’m teaching my grade 5 and 6 students how to write personal writing. We write in journals every morning, and my next goal with them is to turn some of those journal entries into personal essays. The difference? Make it legible. Give it a shape. Add interesting details. Make it something. Give it value.

Is it possible to make a good personal essay, or is what we write always going to belong to an insiders’ club, the insiders being those who enjoy personal writing and yourself, whose head it belongs in? What’s the point, really, when changing “I” to “she” could make a compelling story about which a readers asks, hopefully, “I wonder if this is at all a true story?”

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  1. I think the converting will destroy the value inherent within them. I also think that the teaching of ‘shoulds’ that promote a personal sense of what value is, as in what inclusions additions and methods of speaking from the self will actually devalue both the writing and the students. The words: make it something, give it value…assume there is none and some must be made up. Danger to self esteem!

    Reaction done…I suppose that I frowned inside and made an assumption that one’s essay from the journal is, in fact, an essay. Sometimes I just free-write in there, lists and such. Sometimes brainstorming list…those would need building upon to create a personal story. I suppose if the creation of essay is put forth in that manner, there are writing skills to be learned, that have nothing to do with sprucing up the self, but more with taking a few random items and showing it in life.

    (I must note that I was a very talented writer as a youth. I had several poems published and not in children’s or youth arenas. I had to suffer with slow teachers who viewed my honest writing–I was being abused and no one knew it, and expressions of myself as needing flowers and trees and birds and ponies. This was very damaging for me not only in writing, but in closing the cracked open door for me being able to be myself, just the self that I was. I try not to recall the experience with resentment. I use that passion to hopefully provide insight to other teachers–who might not have such life experiences nor understanding of their students.)

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