Essay 1

Memoir about Home 

Target length: 750–1000 wds

As its name implies, the memoir is rooted in the writer’s own experience, memories and observations. Some memoirs, or personal essays, focus on a significant event in the writer’s life, a meaningful relationship, an important object or place, or some pattern, thread, or theme that weaves through his or her life. For this particular memoir you will be writing about something that connects to your experience, thoughts, and memories of “home.” By doing this you will be practicing one of the essential skills of the writer: namely, to connect the specific to the general, in this case the details of your own lived experience with some more universal theme that will connect (at least potentially) to your readers’ own lives.

Brainstorm. Spend a good deal of time meditating on a germ, kernel, core for this essay. Remember that the large, dramatic events in one’s life are not the only possibilities for writing material; often the important lessons one learns, the images that have particular emotional resonance are much smaller. What images come to mind when you think about home? What are the objects that make you feel at home, and why these particular objects? How many places have you lived, and did all of these places equally feel like home? What are the important lessons you’ve learned about home, and who has taught you and how? Have you had the experience of leaving home, making a new home, or returning to an old home? Have you lived in some way split between two homes, and how could you capture that experience? Look at some old photographs. As you consider different possible writing topics, make some lists, do some free-writing, draw some pictures, talk things over with your friends and family.

You have two goals in writing a memoir: to evoke your own experience clearly and to say something interesting, entertaining, or engaging. By telling something about your own life, you often invite your reader to consider his/her own experience. In order to do that, you may need to narrow your focus in terms of either (or both) time or place. You will also need to think about the big picture (what you’re trying to say) and to try to avoid too-easy clichés such as “home is where the heart is.”

Draft. In your rough draft, concentrate on getting down the details of the experience (or person, place, thing, idea). Your task is much like a fiction writer’s: to capture lived experience in concrete detail, so that your reader feels almost as if he or she is living it as well. Describe setting, and develop character (dialogue is often a particularly good way to do this). Write not a hazy, hasty pencil sketch of an idea, but rather fill in your picture with detail and color. You may want to use either the beginning of the essay or the conclusion as a place to reflect on the significance of the “chunk” of experience you share.

Focus. As you are writing (maybe before or after as well) think about the “point” of this essay. Think about your reader. How does your experience connect to something more universal, to something your reader may have experienced or care about. What are you finally trying to say about this hacked-off corner of your experience? You may not have a neat little lesson to impart, but your sense of the meaning of the experience should have clarified at least a little in the writing.

Revise. As I comment on rough drafts, I’ll give you some individualized reading suggestions for info to help with your own revision issues.

Grading criteria. I will evaluate your essays on the basis of

  • the sharpness of the details you use to evoke experience
  • the thoughtfulness with which you reflect on the experience
  • the grace of your language
  • the mechanical correctness of your prose (for this essay focus in particular on avoiding sentence boundary errors).

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