Advice from Phillip Lopate on Writing About Your Own Life

One of Lois Roelofs’ reading assignments for a recent writing conference was Phillip Lopate’s Writing Personal Essays: On the Necessity of Turning Oneself into a Character. In “Write Along with Me,” she relays great advice from Lopate on writing personal essays and memoir, while contemplating how best to document her own life story.

Think of your quirks

No one wants to read boring stuff, so look for those things that make you unique. None of us is the same, so capitalize on it. When folks tell me they could never be a nurse because of the awful bodily things we have to do, I laugh and say, “I understand. Not all people can be excited about bowel movements.” I’m serious. When a patient had been constipated from days on narcotics, I felt as good as the patient when the stool softeners, or the enema I’d given, finally worked. And, for the record, this topic is on my mind, just having had my five-year colonoscopy yesterday. That would make a quirky story, but I’ll spare you.


Look for conflict

Readers don’t want to read about absolutely hum drum lives. And no one has them anyway. But, even if you think your life is boring, stop a minute and think of what you’ve done the last five minutes. You’ve stopped your routine to read this short essay and you’re wondering why you’re wasting the time. But then you realize there may be some truth to what I’m saying, and you are moved to grab a pencil and write about how you nearly boxed your boss or your husband or your kids yesterday, and oh, wouldn’t that feel good to get that out of your system?


Find humor in your life

Just because you are feeling sad about the whole wide world and you’re telling your story in the truest manner possible, no one wants to be dragged along in your muck. So, no matter how sad your story is, find that smidgen of humor in it, if only to make a little fun about how you’re coping. Humor alone is a fine coping strategy.


Read: Lois Roelofs’ “Write Along with Me”

Do you write about your own life or the lives of others? What are the challenges you face? What tips do you have for others documenting their own journeys?

July 10, 2017Authors, Books, Inspiration, Personal Essay, Storytelling, Writing,