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Gwen Tuinman

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Writing Craft

On Writing a Personal Essay

When writing a personal essay, I lean toward overwriting. The first draft is for me and subsequent drafts are for the dear reader. Once the excess is simmered off, the resulting flavour is more intense. It’s tempting to pour in every memory levied and fact gleaned from research rabbit holes. Alas, I’m kept in check by a desire to serve the essay and by publication wordcount requirements. Some personal details and research remain on the cutting room floor.

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Where Stories Live

Nothing kills story innovation faster than our inner critic. It’s counterintuitive, but when writing drafts, we need to turn our brains off. When we work from our conscious mind, the ego takes over. What a poor sentence! That character should be more likable. Does this even resemble a book page. Our writing choices become predictable and guarded. The inner editor pulls us away from the magic.

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Using Quotation Marks: Yes or No

I’ve been thinking a lot about the absence of quotation marks in recent literature. Our current generation of fiction writers is not the first to cast off traditional dialogue punctuation. James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and E.L. Doctorow were among the early pioneers in that regard. 

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, published in 1992, was the first quotation mark free novel I read. Readers complained about the difficulty to distinguish dialogue from narration. I remember my own concentration being pulled from the story. Oh wait, someone just spoke? Who said that? After a few chapters, persistence paid off. The story’s current pulled me forward.

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