A point that Zinsser made about the narrowness of the memoir versus the autobiography is what summed up the differences for me.
Personal Essay: Narrowest
Even after writing my piece, I kept saying “Is this a memoir? Yes. No. Wait-it’s a personal essay. It’s more of a snapshot of one event. But it has affected me my whole life! It’s a memoir. No-it’s a personal essay.” Truthfully, I still have questions as to how the class will perceive it in our workshop. I tried to take into consideration that a personal essay is informal, intimate, and honest- all elements that are present in my piece. I also made it clear that I was not an expert in my area and suffered because of it-but also learned because of it, satisfying the aspect of interrogation.
The issues that had arisen for me when planning my personal essay were in regards to giving myself permission to write about something that I might otherwise prefer to keep private and being able to narrow in on a specific time in my life that I wanted to highlight. I found myself asking “How much do I want to reveal?”, “Who would be offended if I made a connection between alcoholism and eating disorders?”, and “If someone else wrote about this, would I want to read it?”
My weight is a HUGE issue and it’s hard for me to discuss it without injecting some humor to make light of it. I do, however, realize the value in sharing such a story as I am not the only person in the world to deal with this-or any other type of bodily insecurities for that matter. You don’t have to be overweight to relate to my essay. Maybe you have a desire to get a boob job because you think your boobs are too small. Maybe you think your nose is too big. Maybe you have a third nipple you want removed. Whatever the issue, I think that most people would find some common ground with the event I chose to discuss, and therefore the answer to the question of wanting to read such an article myself would be yes.
My family history of alcoholism, which I highlighted as a comparison to my addiction to food, was an element that made me cringe when I actually put it down on paper. Thinking about how the elders of the family like to sweep such family secrets under the rug and pretend that there is nothing wrong made me nervous that that issue would overshadow the real significance of my experience. But because I am writing for the purpose of this course, I am protected by the fact that they most likely will not read it, and therefore, will not have the opportunity to be as critical as I suspect they may be. On the contrary, if they were to read it I have a certain amount of loathing reserved for their denial of the issue of alcoholism present in our family and would likely muster up the courage to say “Well, what part of that is a lie?” to which they would have to reply “No part of that is a lie.”
Zinsser, William. On Writing Well. New York: Collins, 2006. Print.