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?”