View in browser
Memoir Writing Gym - March

Dear writer,

In the words of Creative Nonfiction, personal essays are "True stories, well told". They are also short memoirs. If you are experiencing spring fever may be writing a personal essay is the way forward this month. 

One of my writing dreams is to publish an essay in the New York Times Modern Love column. Last September I took a Personal Essay class and drafted an essay. After several revisions, I felt ready to show it to my writing teacher. She was very encouraging in her feedback, yet I had no clear understanding if my piece was almost therework in progress, or needed a major overhaul. I had paid good money for the class, so I pressed for more specific critique. 

Her reply read:

"Read 100 essays in a row and you’ll see how idiosyncratic and specific they can be. [...] If you read a whole bunch of pieces in any New York Times, Washing Post and Oprah columns you will see how single-minded and focused most short essays are. "

Suddenly the proverbial light bulb went off in my head. 

"Single-minded and Focused"

A few days later, the New York Times itself confirmed the formula to a successful essay:

- A clear narrative arc with a conflict and a main character who changes in some way. 

- Artfully balanced action of the story with a reflection on what it meant to the writer. 

- Take risks, like including dialogue or playing with punctuation, sentence structure, and word choice to develop a strong voice

- Most importantly, focus on a specific moment or theme — a conversation, a trip to the mall, a speech tournament, a hospital visit — instead of trying to sum up the writer’s life in ~1000 words.

There it was again, focus on a specific moment or a theme.

I leave you with this handy link to 25 Modern Love essays to illustrate the secrets of writing personal essays.

Best, iliana

New York Times' Seven Ideas to Inspire and Improve Personal Essays

1. Use a journal.

2. Use current events and issues as a jumping-off point.

3. Take some tips from experts.

4. Borrow an opening line for inspiration.

5. Use images to spur mémoires and ideas.

6. Craft a great college essay.

7. Learn from more Times models on popular themes.

[ Full Article here ]

Upcoming Events

10 March, 6:30-9:00pm, $55

An Intro to Food Memoir, Story Studio

Navigate the food writing market with Freda Love Smith. The American food scene has exploded in the past two decades, as innovative restauranteurs, dedicated food activists, and celebrity chefs have transformed our understanding of what we eat. Let's dig in together!

* * *

12 March, 6pm, Free

Writer’s Studio Open Mic

Next Writer’s Studio Open House/Open Mic will be at Open Books in the West Loop! Sandi Wisenberg will open the event with a craft mini-lesson on Catching Memories. After that is their always-inspiring creative writing open mic.

* * *

19 March, 7pm, Free

Book signing for Minor Feelings

Eula Biss interviews Minor Feeling's author Cathy Park Hong, a poet, essayist and memoirist. Hosted by Women & Children 

Writing Prompt

Before & After

Think of a life event - happy, sad, anything in between - that splits your life to before and after. What was that event?What was your life before? What is it after? How does that make you feel? What did you learn?


We become better writers by writing and reading. This section highlights memoirs worth reading. 

Never can say good bye, Sari Botton

Where the angels lived, Margaret McMullan

Enjoyed what you read? Share it!

Know someone who’d like to sign up for my newsletter?  

Don’t be shy, drop me a line!

Chicago, IL

Copyrights Iliana Genkova


You received this email because you signed up on my website or you participated in a writing event I hosted.