why personal essays are really important

When I started writing personal essays on the internet, I was half embarrassed, half proud. Even though I grew up in a generation that’s supposedly all about oversharing and facebooking and nonstop blabby social connectedness, I’d still learned that privacy is a virtue, modesty is preferable, and you shouldn’t air your dirty laundry. But I also wanted to talk about things that felt relevant but had been kept quiet. And I wanted to share those things with other women, because I had a sneaking suspicion that I might be facing some of the same challenges that girls and women all over the world deal with, even if those challenges at times felt intensely, well, personal. Even if they felt too small and mundane for the news. I came into personal essay writing open-minded, scared, and determined.

And then I read the comments.

But it wasn’t just the comments. Someone (who kept him or herself anonymous) tried to get me fired from my synagogue job after reading an essay I’d written about a complicated romantic situation. The message was clear: no one who works at a religious institution should write about her love life. I was a whore, wrote commenters. I was never going to be happy. Never going to find love. I was going to ruin every man who came near me. Personal attacks were the result of personal writing. Afraid and humiliated, I apologized to the synagogue president and cried all night.

That was years ago. Since then, I’ve watched critics and commenters alike chastise personal essayists for their vulnerability, their supposed self-centeredness, their apparent fame-mongering. Even as the personal essay as an art form becomes more popular, its detractors are ready with scathing criticisms that suggest it is worthless, superficial, and, god forbid, easy. And it’s interesting that most of the criticism is lobbed at women. Often young women. Because more often than not, it is young women who write personal essays.

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I would like to point out that this is the first time in history that women, especially young women, have had the ability to comment with relative freedom about our lives. We are finally able to publicly, honestly, share our experiences and opinions—and the world is paying attention. It’s a huge victory, but it also comes at a price. There is a dark side to personal essay writing, and there is a superficial side.

That dark side is, unsurprisingly, exploitative. Publishers constantly buy essays about young women’s sex lives, encouraging them to reveal more and more, and more graphically. A popular women’s site is hosting a contest for the most raw, dramatic personal essay. The winner will be paid, the others are writing for free, even as they bare their souls and share their most painful moments. There is a glut of essays by young women about their sexual experiences. Not exactly a huge shock: people like to read titillating rehashes about young women having sex.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing (graphically or otherwise) about sex. This type of writing can be incredibly useful and interesting. What’s problematic is how sometimes, especially without credentials, it can feel like the only way to get your foot in the door to a writing career is to show some (detailed descriptions of) skin.

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Despite some critics’ insistence that you can always publish something else instead, sexually revealing essays are the ones that tend to get a positive response from editors. And we can get moralistic and rant about patience and diligence and blah blah blah, but let’s be real: when you’re trying to make it as a writer and no one knows your name yet, you just need to get some clips and some checks. I remember when, with an inbox full of form rejections and a sense of impending failure and desperation, I finally pitched a piece, just one piece, about something both mundane and provocative. I heard back immediately. I asked if I could use a pseudonym, but the editor edited to make it sexier and published it under my real name before checking his email. And yes, that’s when the anonymous person attempted to get me fired.

And just as there is an exploitative side of personal essay writing, of course there’s a superficial side. The way there is a superficial side of journalism that involves endless fluff pieces about celebrities and makeup, lists of things that people can read on the toilet or in the five seconds their shriveled, tiny attention span will allow. There are many, many ways to write about things other than yourself in a completely meaningless, empty way. And there are also ways to write about yourself without getting into anything deeper than “Oh my god, my hair is SO BAD TODAY.” Yes. There are plenty of personal essays like that. I’ve written plenty of them myself, for a paycheck, but they are not reason enough to dismiss the entire genre, just as Glamour magazine does not negate long-form investigative journalism.

And speaking of journalism, it sometimes feels as though personal essays and journalism get constantly compared to one another, often with reporting held up as an example of someone’s much more respectable choice to set self-interest aside for the sake of pursuing a more objective truth. If personal essay writing is giving into sometimes sordid temptation, journalism is a real job, doing something above-board and useful.

Before I’d really even thought to question this dichotomy, my dear friend Rachel, a successful reporter and personal essayist, pointed out what she sees as an essential similarity between the two genres:  ”In any piece of any real length for a mainstream magazine or news publication, vulnerability is what drives the story. The person who is vulnerable in the story is inevitably judged by the reader… whether that is the writer themselves (like in a personal essay) or your source, if you are a journalist.” She went on to talk about feeling responsible for her sources, and how it seemed brave to her to put yourself in the position of the vulnerable source, the one whose story is told, instead of the objective party telling the story.

“As someone who writes both journalism and personal essays,” she said, “I feel like it’s been helpful to know what that public vulnerability feels like so I can better protect my sources.”

I have never even attempted to write journalistically, and sometimes, I’ve felt guilty for it. As though I am taking the easy road. I am somehow cheating. Or, at the least, I am obnoxiously self-involved for writing publicly about my own life instead of other people’s lives. I don’t feel qualified to write about other people, and I’m not particularly interested in reporting. But the idea that you need training and some skill to be a reporter but absolutely any person off the street can write personal essays is a little frustrating. First of all, it’s true, to an extent, and that’s one of the things that’s awesome about personal essays. Second of all, like anything else, if you want to be really good at it, there’s serious work and effort and thought and practice involved. Believe me, I know. My first year or so of writing this blog is deeply embarrassing to me now. I’m not even close to as deft now as I’d like to one day be. But I’m better than before. And I think that’s worth something.

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And the more I think about it, the more passionately I want to defend personal essay writing as a genre. And the more oblivious I find the half-baked criticisms that begin with “You’re full of yourself!”

We are all full of ourselves. Let’s just set this aside for a moment. Let’s talk about what personal essays so often, and at least always have the potential to do well:

They give us insight into the parts of life that don’t coincide with the news or fit into a major publisher’s agenda. They allow people to tell their own stories, instead of waiting for someone else to show up and record and edit them. In doing so, they give the writer control. They place inherent value in the human experience, in every shape it takes. They emphasize small, meaningful moments. They connect us with other people by exposing the similarities that exist even in our very different lives. Because of this, they create community, because honesty surrounding particular experiences draws other people who also want to be honest about the same issues. They give people who have been silenced a platform to speak. They celebrate non-famous individuals, investigate mundane but serious problems, and reveal meaning in everyday life. They allow us to learn from the mistakes of people we’ve never met. They tell us the truth about experiences we’re curious about but can’t ask about in polite conversation. They make it clear that there are many, many truths, and help keep our perspectives diverse and more tolerant as a result. They encourage openness and vulnerability in a world that can feel impersonal, cold, and disinterested. They acknowledge that people’s experiences, as well as reported facts, are innately interesting and relevant. They reassure us that we’re normal just when we were worried that we were weird and unacceptable; there’s someone else out there going through something similar. And so much more.

Personal essays provide us with historically relevant and valuable accounts of what people’s lives are actually like. They are an amazing opportunity to learn about other people and ourselves, and in doing so, to delve deeper into the human condition.

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When I read about a duty officer at a Russian nuclear command center who saved the world from nuclear destruction and never received much credit, I immediately thought, “I wish he’d written a personal essay about this!” There is something uniquely inspiring about reading someone’s story in their own words. I’ve been moved and educated by personal essays I’ve read, and I’ve felt relieved that I have access to so many of them. I find myself nodding along with the words of a woman I’ve never met, and muttering, “Yes! Exactly!” I feel suddenly understood. Really, I am thankful to find the company. Information seems cheap these days. There’s always Wikipedia! But sometimes what has the most impact is a personal narrative, with feelings behind it. Sometimes that is the only account that feels like the “real” story.

A woman I’d just met randomly described personal essayists to me as “generous.”  Some of the stories I read by women about their lives feel exactly that way. They are willing to share themselves with the world, to be upfront and reveal their flaws, even in a big, unpredictable arena, where trolls can attack at any moment, and where the people who misunderstand or dislike your perspective can be the loudest, while the ones who are nodding gratefully at their screens may remain invisible to you forever.

Most of my female friends follow bloggers and essayists whose voices and stories they enjoy and like learning from. Sometimes when we get together we’ve all read the latest from one of the prominent bloggers or columnists, and we discuss her thoughts in detail. Even when we disagree with her conclusions or worry about the choices she’s made, she has given us a sort of gift. We are exploring our own lives and beliefs a little bit more carefully. We are talking with each other about how we’re each affected by the issues she’s mentioned, if we are affected at all. We are thinking and talking about what it means to be a person in this world, what it means to be a woman.

When I nervously, finally wrote about the crushing sense of my own unattractiveness that motivated me after years of struggling to get cosmetic surgery, emails from girls and women all around the world poured into my inbox, sharing their own stories, commiserating, encouraging me, thanking me for sharing. Something beyond writing and publishing had happened: I felt as though new lines of communication had opened up.

I felt then, and I still feel lucky that I live in a time when I can write about my life—my struggles, hopes, the process of my efforts—and share it with other women. No one has to read it, certainly. For some people, it might seem boring or annoyingly self-involved, and that’s completely fine. But for me, and for many others, personal essay writing is a wide-open new frontier, where it’s OK to be vulnerable, and where we can find strength in our honesty. Let’s keep it going!

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 This is an expanded version of my piece that appears on Daily Life today
*   *   *
Do you write personal essays? If so, why do you do it?
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in the crazy outfits that pregnancy has forced me to throw together, because things don’t fit and I don’t care and it’s cold outside. It’s more fun this way.
P.S. this piece got so long!! And I kept wanted to add more. I keep thinking about this topic, and wanting to talk about it, so it’s sort of a relief to finally get some thoughts down.

39 Comments »

Kate on March 4th 2013 in feminism, life, uplifting, writing

39 Responses to “why personal essays are really important”

  1. Mandy responded on 04 Mar 2013 at 9:33 am #

    Just know that I’m one of the ones nodding and saying “Oh, yeah! I get it!”
    Even when I don’t always leave comments.

  2. Caitlin responded on 04 Mar 2013 at 10:06 am #

    Oh my goodness, this essay. It hits on why I both love to read personal essays and why I love to write them, because they are about as close as we come to ever being able to inhabit the body and mind of another person. This is so wonderful. Thank you for writing this.

  3. Jiminy responded on 04 Mar 2013 at 10:08 am #

    Me too. I try actually to leave less comments than I feel like in order not to seem creepy :) .

    I had actually never thought of personal essay as a category to oppose to journalism, it was more about blogging vs. press, irrespective of whether the blogs would be just journalism in another mediatic form or „online diaries”. But I agree with your defense to the letter. And especially with the community-forging power of this genre.
    On a different note, I hate categorization of the kind I’m going to propose and I remember disliking this kind of labeling when I followed a course in feminism years ago, but I cannot help wondering if personal essay-writing isn’t actually a more feminine genre, inasmuch as it assumes its own subjectivity ??

  4. em responded on 04 Mar 2013 at 10:37 am #

    I have a weird love/hate thing with this personal essay style of writing. I have been so touched by some that I’m left crying, so personally and profoundly helped by some that they are the equivalent of months of therapy – but then others somehow bring out the worst in me, things I would never write in a comment, would never ever say to any person in real life, but just nasty uglies that I otherwise am not even aware exist within myself. It’s definitely a powerful and mysterious type of writing.

  5. Kate responded on 04 Mar 2013 at 10:48 am #

    @em
    I hear you. I think it brings both sides out in all of us. I feel like there are so many essays that could be written about personal essay writing! This would be another one.

  6. Kande responded on 04 Mar 2013 at 11:35 am #

    I sometimes feel like my facebook is a personal essay as don’t hold much back; but I have not ventured so far as to create my own log, even though I think I would quite enjoy it, and think I would be good at it (and if not, who cares? Is there a quantifying number we need to reach/touch before we determine our free work to be “goid enough”? Who cares if no one likes it but me? When I wrote in a diary, I didn’t do it to please anyone but me. that is the most freeing aspect!!).

    However … I am reluctant. As one who comments under a pseudonym for goodness sakes. Probably because lifting the web of anonymity is like showing my diary to a stranger … I am just not ready for that yet! And while I know I could blog anonymously, I relate much more to the writings of bloggers who share their real names, their photos and a bit of background – it helps me picture a real person behind the keyboard …

    P.S. Love the “everyone is full of themself” comment! So funny as so true! Amen on that! Ha!

  7. zoe responded on 04 Mar 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    oh boy do i love this discussion!

    truthfully, i’ve rarely read any “official” personal essays written by woman. mainly the ones found on obscure blogs and such. but i’ve thought endlessly about the ways women are forced to use and abuse their sexuality in order to get ahead. like, for example, my mom just told me my grandma auditioned to sing in a big band when she was a young woman and didn’t get the part because she wouldn’t “put out”. i think all the time about the what our patriarchal world asks of our women. it saddens me we are only appreciated when discussing our sexuality. it saddens me that exploiting our sexual exploits is one of the only avenues women writers have to be seen. what does that mean? what does that say? about our society, about the publishing world? ugh. it leaves a real bad taste in my mouth.

    i would agree with you though — the personal essay is important, no matter how “self-invovled” it is. i firmly believe we’re here to learn from one another. one way to do so is by reading and sharing stories. it’s a direct line of understanding another person’s personal experience. that’s amazing! i just wish we didn’t see it as self-absorbed…

    i agree with em, too, though — some are amazing and awe-inspiring, while others make my skin crawl. regardless, i think i appreciate them, or try to at least, because it is someone else’s experience and they’re sharing it for a reason. i don’t know. i guess i’m of the school of “if you don’t like it, don’t read it!” no need to overly, vindictively criticize someone for writing it. self-expression is a beautiful thing, even if you (or i!) don’t agree.

    (p.s: i somehow always, ALWAYS, seem to end up ranting when posting here. sorry…)

  8. Brittany Ann responded on 04 Mar 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    I’m definitely one who nods at your pieces without commenting. I share the links with my friends on FB and then describe your posts point-by-point to those who don’t have time to immediately go and read them. I also always think about emailing you and tell you how much your words have impacted me in this crazy senior year of college I’m going through now…maybe I will do that someday. Thank you for your personal essays, Kate!

  9. San D responded on 04 Mar 2013 at 1:23 pm #

    Storytelling predates writing, and continues through many cultures. This oral tradition uses parable, allegory and metaphor to cover the same truths modern day personal essayists are tackling today. The difference is that the storyteller, as artist and communicator, uses her whole physical being to tell the story, thus engaging the audience immediately. When you write online people have time to reread, and thus disect, and when they comment many think they are very cleverly exposing the personal weakness of the writer, completely missing the larger truth of the piece.

  10. Diana Spechler responded on 04 Mar 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    Amen, sister.

  11. Sara responded on 04 Mar 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    What an incredibly well-written and thought-provoking commentary! Nice work, Kate.

  12. teegan responded on 04 Mar 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    i think you have so much to say because i don’t remember you ever writing about it before. you’re spot on, though.

  13. schoome responded on 04 Mar 2013 at 6:17 pm #

    I read this in The Age yesterday. Liked it then and I like it now. You are one of the few people I have come across who calls these things we do ‘essays’. That’s what they are and it makes me feel like a ‘proper’ writer………………. THE SELECTED ESSAYS OF araneus1. I like the sound of that.
    Your work is encouraging. Thank you. Terry

  14. Rapunzel responded on 04 Mar 2013 at 6:29 pm #

    I find you to be an incredibly courageous person, and I’m certain I’m not the only one who thinks so! You bare your soul to us in some ways, and you never quit writing even when the faceless cowards behind the screen were mean to you. And for that you are one of the most courageous women I know. Er, “know.”

    Your piece reminds me of this quote from Ratatouille (one of my favorite movies which I just watched last night again!). It doesn’t go exactly along the same lines as writing, but if you try to think about it as cooking=writing, critics=your readers, and “the new”=personal essays, maybe you can understand it like I do here (or maybe this is really just a stretch?). There are some fabulous lines in it that I think you can probably pick out on your own, or else I would bold or italicize them if I could.

    Anton Ego: In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the *new*. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new: an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto, “Anyone can cook.” But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist *can* come from *anywhere*. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.

    I’ll always come back to your blog for more!

  15. Cindy responded on 04 Mar 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    Kate, I just want to take a minute to thank you. I’ve been reading your blog for just over 2 years now, and through your writing, you have helped me to feel less lonely. Sometimes when you post, it’s exactly what I need to hear. Other times, I comb through the archives for whatever I’m thinking or worrying about.

    When I was living in NC (I’m a MA native, and have gladly returned after 2 years), I saw a counselor. We talked about everything from graduate school to my now-ex to body image. I recommended your blog to her, hoping that it would help other people. You just have this beautiful, insightful, and often hilarious way of speaking.

    I don’t think I’ve ever read about being dumped by friends anywhere else, and when you wrote about it, it helped to heal something in me. I wasn’t so alone, and I felt like, if other people had this experience – if this funny, amazing, intelligent woman had this experience – then maybe there wasn’t something wrong with me. Maybe that just happens sometimes.

    Your self-awareness really helps put things into perspective, and I am genuinely thankful for your presence in my RSS feed. Please keep writing and sharing. You do more good for people than you know. Thank you.

  16. Rita Marie responded on 04 Mar 2013 at 11:31 pm #

    What a great, thought provoking piece! I, for one, love all of your personal essays. For me, reading a personal essay often gives me some insight and/or clarity about some aspect of myself. Thank you for being so candid.

  17. Elizabeth responded on 05 Mar 2013 at 12:05 am #

    Thank you for sharing yourself with us.

  18. Elizabeth McCulloch responded on 05 Mar 2013 at 10:18 am #

    Kate – I do write personal essays on my blog, and I very much appreciate yours. I just posted one called “Feminist,” and in the comments revealed with great trepidation that I’d had two abortions. I’m waiting for the anti’s to attack.
    But sometimes I get sick of myself, as explained in this very brief post: http://thefeministgrandma.typepad.com/the_feminist_grandma/2012/02/the-blog-bird.html

  19. Jordan responded on 05 Mar 2013 at 10:38 am #

    I don’t know how it is that you tend to read my mind like this, but AMEN! I love to write and do so pretty successfully as part of my job, but it’s easy to do that because the content is provided for me to write around and the audience is predictable. When it comes to writing on my own and for myself, I usually write personal essays because, well, write what you know I suppose.

    It’s amazing how vulnerable the experience of writing a personal essay for an unknown audience can be, and it truly is a great act of courage to share meaningful, personal breakthroughs and stories. You’re right, though, I often find in reading the personal essays that others write that it helps me to clarify and validate my own experiences, which is invaluable!

  20. rowdygirl responded on 05 Mar 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    I look at reading personal essays just like everything else I read. If I don’t like it, I stop.. if I like it, I continue reading.
    It’s really pretty simple. For people to complain is just silly. I say to them..No one if forcing you to read anything, so if you don’t like it, then just stop.
    I appreciate all that you have to say Kate, so please keep it coming :)

  21. Terri responded on 05 Mar 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    I truly admire your ability to publish personal essays. I write them frequently, but never have the confidence to publish them. In fact, the one guest post I had on your blog was the closest I’d ever gotten to actually publishing a personal essay. I’ve even ventured to pitching a personal essay to a major publication, gotten the go-ahead and then backing out of it because I just couldn’t bear the thought of people knowing what I call “intimate details of my life”

    It’s not because I’m afraid of seeming full of myself. It’s because I’m just a very private person. I’ve always lived by the philosophy, that if you need to know, I’ll tell you. If not, you won’t know. If you know anything more than you need to, consider yourself lucky because not everyone gets the privilege. It took me a year to tell my now fiance personal details of my life.

    So I truly applaud your ability to change the world by sharing your personal story. Hopefully, one day I will have the same courage. Until then, I will continue “changing the world” by telling the stories of others.

  22. Anna responded on 05 Mar 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    Hi Kate – I found your site recently, after reading some of your work on another site. I find your work honest, refreshing, and insightful. Thank you.

  23. Colenso responded on 05 Mar 2013 at 10:48 pm #

    I think I’ve fallen instantly in love with Kate Mende-Fridkis. Too bad she’s married. Too bad that I am too and am old enough to be her father.

    “Why do some of us slip into ‘girly voice’?” is the most brilliant, the most wonderful piece of writing I have come across in a long, long time.

    There I was procrastinating as usual, reading dreary and tedious nonsense after nonsense on the DailyLife website when I was supposed to be going online briefly and paying my bills, and then do some actual work. Reluctantly, I was about to wrench myself away from the fascinatingly horrible ghastliness that permeates DailyLife, from the idiotic articles to the moronic comments, when out of the blue I came across Kate’s piece.

    God-damn, that girl can write, I thought to myself. I wondered again, as I always do when I come across absolutely first-rate writing – why can’t I write like that? Was it perhaps because she’s a girl, or a woman, or a member of the female sex and I alas will never be? Of course not. As always, luminous talent has nothing to do with our biological sex or our chosen gender. Rather, it’s that once in a while there comes along a rare creature who actually can write, rather than just hack, or blog, or pontificate.

    It’s uplifting when one discovers for the first time a writer like Kate Mende-Fridkis. It’s also depressing. As long as we read only the second and the third rate, we can kid ourselves that perhaps we’re not too bad as writers go. But as soon as we read a writer like Fridkis, it’s like seeing a painting by Schiele or Kandinsky: we realise that there’s simply no hope for the rest of us.

  24. Lauren Michelle responded on 05 Mar 2013 at 10:59 pm #

    Blogging and journaling has attracted me more to personal essay writing lately than fiction, which used to be all I cared about writing. I think college that for me, too. I don’t know that I’m necessarily good at it, but I like writing in that frame of mind more now. However, there are things I go to write about on my blog that I end up not posting, because it feels to private to put on the internet. I don’t really know what to do with those writings, because I eventually want those sides of myself to be heard, but the only thing holding me back from putting them out there are the other people involved in the story. Writing about other people is a challenge. I don’t want to overstep my boundary, but I also feel obligated to tell the story exactly as I experienced it.

  25. Julie responded on 06 Mar 2013 at 12:49 am #

    I completely love this piece. This is one of my favorites of your blog posts! I am a long-time reader and always type out comments, but have never had the nerve to actually submit one. But I don’t want to be one of the invisible readers nodding in the background anymore and had to tell you how much your writing resonates with me. I’ve been reading your blog ever since AOL shared your piece about your nose and I am always captivated by your insightful commentaries. I think it is so brave of you to write such personal testimonies. It can be scary to share your words with the world! Especially because I think a small part of all of us has to care at least somewhat what those words reveal or how they might affect others’ perceptions.

  26. Aussie Elle responded on 06 Mar 2013 at 12:55 am #

    Kate! I love this piece. I know you said it went quite long but I didn’t want it to end! Keep doing what you’re doing :)

  27. Elisha_Q responded on 06 Mar 2013 at 5:43 am #

    I’ve been reading your blog for several months now and I usually don’t comment. The funny thing is that one of the main reasons I keep coming back is for the comments underneath your pieces. You have the tallent to gather people who are mostly kind, intelligent and with great sense of humor. I want to thank you for putting yourself out there and triggering all that diversity, in oppinions and personal stories.Thank you for making this blog and making me feel not so weird.

  28. Sophie responded on 08 Mar 2013 at 5:50 am #

    Thank you, Kate.

    Among other things, I write personal essays and keep a blog. Every now and then I wonder if it’s all just self-indulgent, and need a reminder like this one, or someone telling me that the personal parts of an essay I’ve written were what made the rest of it for them, to make me feel okay about it. Human beings are interested in human beings; for the most part, we understand things through stories. It’s the stories that stick.

    And yeah, writing personal essays is just as freakin’ hard as writing anything else. Because of what I write about (food), and because it happens to be what I’m like, I do an awful lot of research to write any essay. Half of it might end up on the page, if I’m lucky. But even if I wasn’t researching the history of or science behind whatever it is that I’m writing about, producing something that makes sense and that is hopefully at least a little bit interesting is tough. So much has to be processed, and sentences and paragraphs and sections have to be refined and structured… Sometimes I wonder why I do it to myself! (And certainly I wonder much of the time whether I do it well.)

    But really I know why: I’m trying to make sense of the world, just like anyone else. Which is really the same reason I READ personal essays. And that’s why I’ve found myself here, reading your blog.

  29. Five [Awesome] Things I Read This Week (03.08.13) | pinkbriefcase responded on 08 Mar 2013 at 6:11 pm #

    [...] Why Personal Essays are Really Important, by Kate at Eat the Damn Cake.  This is a really moving and inspirational [at least for a blogger [...]

  30. Raging Leftie (@ragingleftie) responded on 09 Mar 2013 at 11:50 am #

    Really enjoyed reading this. Welldone.

  31. Allyson responded on 09 Mar 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    I absolutely love reading personal essays; I think it takes so much courage to put oneself out there to that extent, and I feel like I learn so much from them, both when they’re written by people I relate to, and especially when written by people I really don’t relate to.

  32. Allyson responded on 09 Mar 2013 at 7:59 pm #

    Though you blog typically falls into the former category…I expect that to change a bit once you have insight into raising another human being though :)

  33. Pippi responded on 10 Mar 2013 at 11:14 am #

    Reading the part where you mention that you and your friends often discuss other people’s personal essays made me think; there is no difference between that and a personal drama on the TV, or a “thought for the day” on the radio. I mean obviously, it’s not fiction and it’s someones opinions being expressed but I think it’s a sign of a healthy way to express thoughts that it can spark a discussion.
    I mean really there’s no difference between this and a philosophical blog. The feelings and thoughts portrayed here (particularly as you write in such a rational way) are fascinating to read and I think are without a doubt a credible form of journalism! I mean even with subjects similar to those you’d find in magazines, your writing is so intelligent and verbose that it surpasses them.

    So basically, I agree with you (once more) wholeheartedly Kate and so long as you keep writing personal essays, I’ll keep reading them! (Plus it saves me money on magazines! And I’d much rather read your opinions than theirs!!)

  34. Amy Evans responded on 11 Mar 2013 at 9:42 pm #

    *nodding gratefully at my screen*

  35. The Friday social responded on 29 Mar 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    [...] also loved Why Personal Essays Are Really Important on Eat the Damn Cake. I have a lot of thoughts on the ways and the reasons personal essays (and [...]

  36. pistolet wiatrówka responded on 29 Mar 2013 at 11:13 pm #

    I’m really glad I have found this info. Nowadays bloggers publish just about gossips and net and this is actually frustrating. A good blog with interesting content, this is what I need. Thank you for keeping this web site, I’ll be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Can not find it.

  37. Julia (Color Me Green) responded on 01 Apr 2013 at 12:34 am #

    found your blog this weekend through APW and just read a ton of posts. i love how you put into words that personal essays are a thing. i’ve never been much interested in writing fiction, but have been into journal writing my whole life. i’m constantly writing a running commentary on my life in my head and wishing i had more time to write it all down. my blog is very bare bones about food and projects in my life, and your blog is inspiring me to commit to doing more personal essays.

  38. Writing and Mother’s Day | MeReader responded on 10 May 2013 at 11:46 am #

    [...] transition and go beneath the surface of onesies and diaper bags. But I need to face that fear. It’s important for women to write about themselves and to make their struggles public if they can take the heat. Letting others in can make all of our [...]

  39. Layla responded on 06 Sep 2013 at 6:07 pm #

    Hey Kate,
    great post:) I actually stumbled across your blog a little while ago and it has drawn me back time and time again. The different areas you write about(food, weight, women, body image ect) are much needed and I feel every woman can relate to on some level( I know I have). I’m trying to get out of my comfort/fear zone to start freelancing as well as starting a blog of my own, so reading yours has definitely inspired me. I’d love to hear some of your own advice on these two topics and how to go about it. Keep writing!!!
    P.S. I can’t wait to eat some dam good cake this weekend and take a picture of it with pride! :)