Some very foolish man once said "Write what you know." I wonder if he/she ever did this--if they did, they would understand just how difficult it is to do. Just ask anyone who's ever attempted a personal essay or memoir.
As I branch out in my writing projects, I find that I'm getting a bad case of stage fright when it comes to writing about topics close to me. And I mean any topic that's close to me. I think it comes down to that pesky inner critic and the fear that I'll offend someone close to me. I can get past it normally, but for I'm really getting hung up on this for some reason.
Right now I'm working on an article about sharing an office (something I've done for over 2 years so I feel pretty knowledgeable about it) and I'm having the worst time with it. I'm over-analyzing, writing long rambling sentences instead of being short and sweet, and basically tripping all over myself to get the words down. Awful.
So how do I tackle this? How should writers approach any topic that hits a little close to home, as innocuous and universal as it may be?
Here's the approach I'm going to try:
Look for the universal appeal... Chances are, the topic you're writing about is something that others have gone through. Look at the big picture--what can you share with others about the subject? What will have your readers nodding in agreement, groaning in sympathy, or rolling their eyes knowingly? Try to find those angles and emphasize the points most of us can relate to.
...but personalize it. But remember that it's still your article, and your experience with the topic is yours and yours alone. Don't be afraid to put your own spin on it, using "I" and referring to yourself at certain points throughout. This will help to put a face on the experience, universal though it may be.
Focus on the end result. What are you hoping to achieve with your piece? What connection are you looking to make with your readers? Are you looking to entertain with a funny family vacation story, or are you providing information on a new online dating site you've test driven personally? Focus on your purpose and that will help to guide you through the rough writing waters.
Don't write out of spite. If you are writing a personal essay about how a best friend from high school betrayed you, think about the consequences. Is there a possibility your friend might read the piece (very likely if you're still in contact and/or it's for a well-known publication)? Are you prepared for their reaction? Don't write out of anger or with the intent to cause hard feelings, although, if you're truly baring your soul, that might very well happen. Hopefully your piece will spark some discussion and be the first step in clearing the air and getting over any old grudges.
How about you? How do you approach those tough personal topics?