Writing Personal Essays, By Sheila Bender is a handy reference if you are writing in an essay format. (The edition that I have is the original edition. I understand that there is a new addition available now.)
Ms. Bender approaches the memoir process by using eight styles of essay writing and provides guidance on using them for the personal essay. (When you think of an essay remember high school—you probably wrote essays that were descriptive, narrative, argumentative, persuasive, etc.)Through examples and exercises she guides the reader through the structure of the various essay styles, with each style building on the previous style.
I especially like that she provides an example of a first draft; a means of evaluating the first draft ; then also provides the rewritten essay for each style that she presents.
When I read the chapter on descriptive essays and followed her exercises I immediately found myself wanting to sit down and write a piece about my favorite aunt and then another one about the way I feel when I enter my husband’s shop.
Although I did not free write, evaluate and rewrite for each chapter as I read it, I did find myself creating clusters of ideas for each style of essay presented–I will be writing for a long time.
A couple of other things I like about the book are that she addresses the “I” issue. Use it! If you were educated when I was you were taught that you should not use “I;” that it was egotistical–or some such thing–to refer to yourself. As a result you may have ended up writing a lot of ineffective passive phrases. At least that is what happened to me.
The other thing that I like is that she encourages seeking the deeper meaning in the pieces we write. Only by understanding the deeper meanings can we write essays or memoir that will invite the reader to more fully understand us.
For more information about Sheila Bender and her books — http://writingitreal.com/