Why Would Anyone Care About My Personal Essay?
by Writing Workshops Org Admin
A year ago
One of the most frequent questions I hear when I teach personal essay writing is some variation of, “Why would anyone care about my life or what I have to say?” This is an understandable question. I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves in plenty of situations where we don’t care at all about what the other person is saying.
We probably wished we could freeze time, but we ended up responding, “no way” and “totally” and “I love it,” even though we didn’t love it at all, and our attention had wandered. So, I’m not going to tell you, “Of course people will care!” because that’s not a given. But let’s look at this problem from a few angles.
Do You Care?
I find that when we write about our obsessions, we worry less about whether or not people will care and perhaps more about whether they’ll care too much (but that’s another conversation). We assume they’ll care because we’re saying something so important that it’s been pinging around in our brains for years or decades. The obsession could be childhood, a love-life pattern, a trauma, climate change, baseball, or Beanie Babies. Doesn’t matter what it is, but you have to care. That’s step one.
Not Everyone Will Care
I’ll never forget the one-word review I received eight years ago after publishing something on the Internet: “Meh.” It came from a stranger and it made me laugh so hard… No, it didn’t—it made me weep and question my life choices. But one person’s “meh” is another person’s favorite essay. The goal is to find your readers, not please the masses. You’re not a populist politician; you’re just writing twelve hundred words about your feelings. If the essay deals with something that’s important to you, the subject will likely resonate with others. We don’t exist in a vacuum. We all live in the same world with the same range of emotions. Others have been through some version of what you’ve been through.
But Some People Have to Care
At some point, you will have to think about how to make people care. That is, an essay isn’t a diary entry. It’s for readers, not just for you. You can write an essay about trout fishing and pray that you’ll reach a readership of devout trout fisherman, or you can identify what the essay about trout fishing is really about. Your relationship with your grandfather who took you trout fishing every weekend until he died? Your commitment to environmental activism? Your love of nature? Broad themes hook more readers. (Intentional trout-fishing pun.)
Just Be Honest
Anything honest is beautiful. If you’re as real as you can be on the page, if you admit to the things that you wish you didn’t have to admit to, if your secrets are your vehicle for artistic exploration, then trust me—many readers will care. We all want to be up in everyone’s business. You’ll engage us with your dirty details.
And Think Differently
Most importantly, “Why would anyone care?” is the wrong framing device. We start asking self-defeating questions to block ourselves from writing:
Why would anyone care?
Who do I think I am?
Why am I such a narcissist?
Shouldn’t I be doing something better with my time?
Don’t block yourself! You should not be doing something better with your time. You should write about your life and share it with the world so that someone might read it and feel unburdened – the lifting of weights they hadn’t known how to name. That is the power of the personal essay.
If you want to learn more about writing personal essays, join my 8-Week Intro to Personal Essay online class starting January 27th. You will get weekly writing prompts, connect with a fun community of fellow essayists, and have two chances to get your work critiqued by the group and the instructor.