Help please: places for personal essays "vs" creative non-fiction
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Hello all, I'm looking for publications that publish personal essays; venues that don't demand non-fiction essays be written in the creative non-fiction, narrative form. Unfortunately the publications I want to get into Brain,Child, Literary Mama, etc. all want strong narrative non-fictions. In Literary Mama's "what we DON'T want...." list they write: "Pieces that read like columns or intellectual reflections on personal experiences." What they DO want: # Illustrative anecdotes or vignettes. # Compelling narrative. I feel my pieces read like what they don't want - intellectual reflections on personal experiences, as societal commentaries wrapped around my personal experiences because my interest and background is strongly tied to psychology, social issues, the implications behind the lives of women, mothers, transition, identity, the evolution of humans. I read 95% non-fiction and my writing comes from my attraction to making social commentary but in essay form. e.g. I just wrote one called "Funny Girls" with the posit that stark, gross and irreverent humor in women is powerful because.....and Brain,Child said "while clearly and thoughtfully written, and the editor enjoyed reading....they want set scenes alternating with exposition...." When I write my essays I'm not naturally drawn to write a "story," to scenes, dialogue, vignettes etc. Is this a classic sign of inexperience or just my natural leaning? Chicken or egg? Perhaps I don't have enough experience with this genre to like CNF, or maybe I just don't like writing it? I also feel my memory to pull up stark details is weak, e.g. pulling imagery out of past events is not my strong suit. While I can bring up and tweak and write metaphors, I don't easily recall the minutia of an event; I'd have to make it up, "the color of her loose dress, a checkered red and white knee length cotton wrap looked like she'd grabbed her mother's dirty tablecloth and carelessly wrapped it around her just to cover up...." I'd have to make that scene up because I'd never remember what my friend wore, her mother etc. I'd remember that her mother made her feel inadequate etc, etc. because of her own insecurities etc..... I wouldn't remember her dress and the color, or want to focus my writing on that...only that the girl was angry and bitter because of the expectations put on her by a mother born of the 1950's June Cleaver era who dropped out of college when her mother insisted she and Dad could no longer support two kids in college and so her brother had a better chance of "making something of his life"....etc, etc.... I've tried mind mapping and all those good tools, but I find mapping etc doesn't help me much. I just like to start with a posit, write and re-write, re-write..... What publications, print and ezines welcome personal essays that read like commentaries, "intellectual reflections?" And, is creative non-fiction a "better" essay or just a different form? It seems CNF has become the popular form of essay for the literary motherhood publications, why because we are drawn to CNF? Because it pulls the reader into the story with rich dialogue and detail? I need a home to focus my writing style, or to find a writing style and then find a home. Thanks SO much for your feedback : ) and btw, if anyone would critique my "Funny Girls" essay I'd be grateful. Laura
  • What a great metaphor Nichole, and so true!  I overstayed many essays in the past, when I used to write them consistently, bored to death by the monotony of re-reading myself for the 20th time.


    Now, I'm like the lover who chooses to avoid love, keeping essay rejection at arm's length, selectively choosing to spend ANY time on them (out of time limitation AND losing my love of the process).


    I use blogging to express now, but every so often venture the essay..... I sense this might be a later in life world for me rather than a "do or die" as I once deemed literary writing.  I"ve been published, had some "oh so close buts," an honorable mention, but still, after (hand on brow) the time commitment and rejection, I'm a bit essay-jumpy now. 



  • Yeah, the chapter submission does make a difference.

    Actually I don't really need to know how people feel about this current essay. Some 10 people have already looked at it, so that part's clear. 

    You know how some pieces are like lovers who haven't gotten the clue they've overstayed their welcome? This essay is becoming like that. I will have it submitted by the end of this week, if not the middle. There is, after all, another essay and a couple of journalistic articles on its heels.

    Thanks for the compliment on my blog.

    Cheers and luck!



  • I know many publications e and print, allow concurrent submissions but because this was for a book, I assumed the submission was proprietary.  Selfishly I admit, I"m not in love with critiquing others' work but I"m happy to give you my thoughts or overall sense, as reciprocity is the right thing to do : ) Did you have a deadline? Can it be week after next?

    I like your website, and was immediately struck by the visuals and the variety of your topics. I write natural health, well-being & psychology, mind-body. Self-empowerment topics inform almost all my work, literary and otherwise. 


    All the best,



  • This is the thing that sucks with literary work: you can only submit it to one place at a time. I decided a while ago to eschew that rule with journalism. It's not only unfair for publishers to expect us to take possibly as year out of our lives between submissions and waiting times, it's also an anomaly. For instance, when applying for jobs, is one company the only one you're applying to? No, even if you get to the third tier of interviews you can opt to go with another company, eh?

    Now I'm going to contradict myself; I'm just entering this field (though I've had two essays published already) and don't want to get a bad name with any single publication that I'm aiming for. Therefore I will wait perhaps a couple weeks for each submission. If it takes them more then that...well....we'll see. 

    Yes, I'll read your piece and offer a critique. I'm working on another draft of one of my essays and would like your reciprocity. Having briefly perused your blog and generally liking the subjects I've seen, I'm eager to read your essay.

    You can email me your essay at [email protected]



  • Well, thank you Nichole that's a nice thing to say :)

    I so rarely write essays now, having little time with my websites and online articles.

    When I don't shy away from essays, they take me weeks. I submitted to It's All In Her Head, a compilation of essays from women who battled and triumphed over mental illness. Mine was about post-partum depression. I was a finalist but just this summer, got cut with praise (translation - yours was good Laura, but not good enough). Very disappointing.   I plan to submit it to other publications eventually.  


    I'd love for you to take a look at it, and please feel free to critique it, or not, either is fine. I"ll also post a blog I'm writing at this moment. As par for my "blogs", sometimes my posts become essay-like.  I'll finish up and post both today.



  • Hi Julie


    Yes it does make sense thank you.


    I'm so tied into my new website right now that the essay and creative side of me is temporarily on hold, but not at the expense of reading and exploring great essayists.


    I just read a piece by Lee Gutkind (editor of CNF) about how important it is for academics to learn to tell a story and how storytellers and essayists should learn to provide more expert information, to offer a sturdy posit with research and support for their story.


    "If creative writers are willing to reach past their coming-of-age memoirs and the types of personal narratives that tend to predominate in creative writing workshops, they can turn themselves into experts through research and study, and produce narratives that teach readers about science or architecture or medicine or...anything, really." Lee Gutkind


    I find this encouraging.  I have a strong interest and background in research (Psych major years back). My writing niche in the commercial world (Words for Empowered Living, spans well-being, natural health, psychology, social trends and motherhood. These interests, in addition to of course just living life, inform my essays. Much of my work requires I do research and become a lay expert; Gutkind mentions how much of the CNF today is "brainy" but not necessarily from an actual expert.  


    I've long struggled with telling anecdotal stories in a manner that captures the reader, although I've improved and my voice and memory of events now flows more easily.  Writing dialogue however, feels somewhat contrived for me, like I must pull out a conversation, that I must ad lib, fill in, create from memory what may be far from the actual dialogue that occurred say, between my teen daughter, my husband etc. I remember the FEELING but not the actual exchange.


    My essays seem to want to inform, to teach, to state my feelings and opinions, observations and insights and then make a social commentary to tie it all together. This approach might be my lack of CNF experience or just who I am; I'm not sure. I will work on my storytelling skills because a great storyteller who can also inform is likely where I want to be.


    Barbara Kingsolver informs and educates her readers beautifully in her essays as she comments on eco issues, conservation, population control as does Carl Hiassen although he is mostly fiction.


    I'm reading Freedom by Franzen and while again, this is fiction, his detailed and nuanced (down to highly astute insights about humans today), his social commentary on modern day suburnites,the environmental destruction through mountain top removal for coal mining, population issues, generation y, z, (whoever's) attitude, the corporate conscience disguised by environmentalists who sell out, our culture of narcissism, is brilliant.  I hope I'm absorbing a style all my own, but one that is informed by the great essays.


    Anne Lamott is my favorite essayist so far, and she doesn't seem to offer lots of dialogue or present expert information, more she offers anecdotes, stories, her opinion and then reflects (mostly with humor). THAT's what I enjoy writing the most - "Here's my life, here's how I feel, here's my commentary." She does it without sounding acerbic or preachy, I'm working on that.  When "you should" is an undertone, the reader is turned off I believe.






  • I've been thinking about this posting for a few days, trying to decide whether or not I had two cents to add.  The essay is my love.  Montaigne, Emerson, Samuel Johnson, Thomas Friedman, Anne LaMott are my essay heroes.  I understand well the whole concern about the CNF direction of this art form.  I spent so many years of my life as an academic and felt most comfortable writing pieces that dealt with facts and footnotes and leading from premise to conclusion one logical transition at a time.


    When I looked at my favorite academic writers, I saw that what they all had in common was they were whizzes at weaving stories in among the footnotes.  Then when I started reading contemporary essayists like Bill Bryson and Annie Dillard I found that they were absolute whizzes at weaving science and history and politics in among their stories.  And all of these writers, academic or non-academic had absolutely personal styles and unique voices.  And they all told stories.  Story-telling adds what Aristotle called the "emotional appeal."  Stories are how readers connect the unfamiliar (the point a writer is making) to the familiar (their own lives).  Stories make readers invested in a piece.


    When I left academic life I knew I wanted to keep writing, but who outside of the university wanted to hear about French rhetorical theorists or Aristotle on ethics?  So to keep writing I had to find a new style and a new voice.  So I started back to reading and reading and reading all kinds of things until I found writers doing what I wanted to do.  I do feel the pressure of the CNF/New Yorker style.  It's so prevalent right now, which makes it seem so boring.  So many pieces seem to sound the same to me in the literary journals.  It's not me, and I can't write to fit the trend.  So I'm still trying to figure out the best place to send the essays that I currently am working on.


    My suggestion is to read, read, and read from a wide variety of non-fiction (and fiction) sources.  Figure out what your favorite writers do that engage you and then figure out how you can use that technique yourself.  In your writing journal trying copying their styles.  Try out the topics or techniques or those you dislike, but find ways to add your own twist.  Write your message in haiku.  Even if you don't feel comfortable in other genres or other versions of essays, experiment.  The most difficult part of non-academic writing was to start using "I."  Figure out what is hard and strange for you, then do it deliberately.  Nobody has to see it.  Baseball players do pilates, not because they want to be dancers but because it works new muscles and allows them to do their sport better.


    Does any of this make sense?  Sorry I went on for so long.

  • Thanks Kelly : )


    I'm retracting my Funny Girls essay critique request. I don't feel it's my best work and, and..... LOL

    As par for the course, most of my time lately is dedicated to writing articles, and now my website, Words for Empowered Living: My blog has a few essays, opinions:

    I did submit an essay to It's All in Her Head for a compilation book about women working with mental health issues. My essay on post-partum depression was selected as a finalist. I'm still waiting for the final word.


    I appreciate the info on essay markets. I subscribe to CNF; a fine publication, and yes the creme de la creme for essays, IMO.


    Thank you again : )



  • Those markets are all tough to crack.  Have you looked at your newspapers? Christian Science Monitor, Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Times, Boston Globe, etc etc etc all publish some sort of essay at least once a week, frequently more often.  Also Newsweek/Time and the Sunday supplements will publish thoughtful essays.  And, of course, the mother of all creative non fiction, Creative NonFiction (Lee Gutkind, last I checked) publishes essays.  Also check out the Sun magazine.  Another tough market to crack, but great if you get in.  Glimmer Train.  Rose and Thorn.