As a publisher of narrative nonfiction, as well as a veteran author, I often find myself ensconced within the great debate of personal writing vs. confessional writing. In the world of higher education, especially, English professors come across the later most often. There is an important distinction between the two, which is rarely called out and dissected.
Confessional writing is just as its name indicates. Think of what a confession ultimately entails when given. I would go out on a limb and say that a confession is similar to word vomit. Gross, I know, and that is often how I feel when reading a “confessional” essay or book. I would also say, in my opinion, that confessional writing is somewhat self-serving. I’m sure the writer feels cathartic afterward, but the reader’s experience is far from pleasant. You see, when one writes to confess, the end-user is often neglected. Sure, we write for ourselves in a way, to own our truth, but we must always keep our readership in the back of our minds.
Personal writing is an art. The day I discovered this form of expression, I was sunk. I fell in love with narrative nonfiction and never looked back. It never dawned on me, at that point in my youth, that a personal accounting of something wonderful or traumatic could be represented as literary art. Unlike the self-indulgent delivery of confessional writing, personal writing has a beauty that is difficult to ignore.
As an avid reader, I have found that self-control has a lot to do with writing style. A confession is a purge, really, and not often eloquent. It takes self-control to paint a picture of an event, scene, or memory. Vomiting all over the reader, with little finesse to speak of, is hardly a way to garner a following.
For those who love narrative nonfiction as much as we do at Girl on the Write Publishing, we ask that your submissions of personal writing be void of confession. Always keep your reader in mind, balance structure and flow of your story, and have the good sense to know whether you are purging, or painting.