Writing in the first person

Last night I attended a panel discussion about the writing of memoirs and articles in the first person. For $25 I got to hear from the editors of the New York Times “Modern Love” section and its magazine’s “Lives” section, from the original New York food critic Gael Greene, from a memoir-acquirer who is part of the Random House group, and from a young up-and-comer in the women’s magazine industry.

As always, I was astounded to hear from these panellists that the overwhelming majority of what they receive is, well, crap. Apparently many would-be contributors submit essays in which they blame others for whatever (negative) experience they choose to write about; they exhibit insufficient insight into themselves, thereby diminishing the reader’s interest in them; they tell, rather than show, what their problem or dilemma is.

I found this class enormously helpful for all of the various “hats” I choose to wear – consultant to a writer (Simi Linton), agent to memoirists (Sally Cooper and another who will remain unnamed at this stage), and as a writer of my own messy effort, still well and truly in the rough drafting stage.

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