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Listening to Ghosts: Picking the Topic for a Personal Narrative

ask a writer

Recently, one of my blog readers wrote to ask me the following question (paraphrased):

Subject: How do you choose an autobiographical incident?

I am a student of a creative writing class and my professor assigned us to write a 5-page autobiographical incident. I don’t know what to write about. I know you have your expertise on this and I’m hoping you could suggest something.

My Response

Thanks for reaching out to me! I’ve certainly written many personal narratives. Choosing which experiences to talk about is tricky to explain. For me, the stories almost feel like they choose themselves. They are stories that feel important somehow, and telling the story is often my way of coming to understand that part of my life better. The experience often feels like it’s bouncing around inside me. When I first noticed this, the stories felt like restless ghosts unwilling to let me sleep. Then I learned they were just asking to be spoken.

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Can we write without empathy?

ask a writer

This is part of the “ask a writer” series. I received the following message from an aspiring writer named Doug. A lightly edited version is reproduced here with his permission.

I’m in Suzy V’s Seductive Beginnings [writing] class, and Chuck Palahniuk is doing a Q&A for us. In one particular question, he talks about emotional stakes in writing:

“A clever idea is amusing, but unless you have a personal stake in it, the charm evaporates.”

I’ve got pretty severe Asperger’s. I recently took an empathy test with a health care professional and scored almost ZERO. So, I’m basically a robot with a heartbeat, and I hate it.

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