MC over in Freemont does me another solid by asking: when writing creative nonfiction that reflects some aspect of your own life, how do you maintain enough distance from deeply personal nature of the subject so that you can write about it in a way that resonates with a wider audience?

Great question. Lee Gutkind over at CNF (the magazine, not the movement) looks for exactly that. “How to,” however, applies to any writing that resonates beyond a gripping plot or captivating voice.

First, the work has to mature. The chances of coming up with something resonant are directly proportional to the amount of time spent in revision. A dedication to revision, hours and hours of it, separates those who write (an excellent category, by the way) from writers who publish.

Secondly, the writer has to mature. I suppose you could create for the purposes of the piece a maturity you may not have to date achieved. Seems like it would be faster and easier just to mature. At least enough time needs to pass that that horror or joy or sheer tumult resolves to the point where you can write without pathos or self-absorption. Critics label such undertakings “sentimental.” Kiss o’ death.

Specific to creative nonfiction: the writer is an acknowledged element of the piece, not hidden by the mask of fiction or the alleged neutrality of journalism. My best work comes when I explore a topic from my own, flawed expereince (without descending into pathos or self-absorption).

Truman Capote

A writer can’t control whether or not the work will cause readers to see themselves in the context of the work and subsequently learn something, perhaps about themselves; or: “resonate”. To get back to answering the question, in the interest of resonating with the reader, don’t. Just tell your story as clearly and as beautifully as you are able, in as few words as possible.

Thanks, MC.

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