Confessional Style of Writing

Some intellectuals put down the personal or feeling modes of writing. However, there is a place for the confessional style of writing no matter what these literary lions say. Just look at the growth of memoir! People are hungry for personal stories that tell them how you coped with a certain problem or a problem they are coping with. Readers learn from reading others living seemingly ordinary lives who come to some sort of crossroads or we wouldn’t have memoirs that sell. Entertainment in writing, yes, but meaning too. There is room for all of us and not just one kind of writing.

The memoir often shows how the  intuitive, social and feeling people find meaning in their lives.  We all have our strengths and weakness and the memoir can show a balance of “can do” and “I am”, one external “doing” and the other internal “being.” You might read  Toni Morrison for a  feeling book or Anne Carson for a more  intellectual writing with feeling too. Eve Ensler’s new book is a combination of the two although she usually relies on the “doing.”

Recently the poet Sharon Olds won the Pulitzer Prize for her newest poetry book Stag’s Leap. It’s a story of the year her thirty year relationship ended and all her her feelings and problems. Her work is so highly personal that she has been the butt of jokes for years from academics. However, she is an academic too.  Sylvia  Platt, Anne Sexton, and Sharon Olds all write of personal concerns: family relationships, issues of self and identity, problems with others, concerns of the world. While Platt and Sexton had were brilliant and had mental problems, I have met Sharon and spent time with her and she is quite grounded. Some writers make a choice to write out of their everyday lives and it is a great gift. And now she has been rewarded after thirty-some years of writing. (She is so personal that she answers letters to writers not known to her  or at least she used to).

If it sounds like I’m on a soapbox, I am. I want to encourage everyone to write what they need to for whatever positive reason they want. Write for others, write for yourself. Just write! And write in the way you are.

Writers, of course, write from different voices. Some writers such as Mark Doty or Michelle Tea in Texas and California are most comfortable writing from their personal lives whether in memoir or poems. When writers discover their voice, sometimes it’s in the form which is the most personal form. Other forms do different things for the writer and reader: s/he creates some distance from the reader, as does you which can be seen as directive and depends on the tone. See Rilke as a an example of a gentle enough tone to make it personal. The we is an voice of solidarity as in we sisters or we writers.

Use what both suits you and the story the best. Try different voices to see what works best. Be careful when switching voice in your manuscript . It can be done but be mindful that you are doing it and ask yourself if it is the way you want to tell your story such as a memoir in two voices: yours and another’s. It may be a creative decision and it moves a bit from memoir to nonfiction but you can work it if you want. Just be careful in assigning motivation. We can see and understand action but motivation is a very complex issue often dealing with the unconscious defenses of the other.

Some writers write so well and their use of language is so advanced that we call them literary writers. May Sarton with her Journey of a Solitude, Jeanette Walls with Ice Castle, and Borrowed Time by Paul Monette are examples. Other writers are just starting and can write a good memoir even if their writing isn’t actually literary but their story is so explosive and important the action and feeling carries us along even if the language isn’t beautiful enough to be literary. Again, room for all, room for growth.





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