AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

Before doing this assignment, you should have read Chapters 5, 10, and one or more of the essays in Chap. 11, plus the "Short Shorts" in Chapter 17 of Writing True.  Besides the pieces in these chapters,  look at old issues of Eng. 245 class magazines for additional excellent examples of personal writing.  Read some advice from other Eng. 245 students at Student Comments below.  Keep in mind that everything you write for this class will be open to everyone to read, so write about an experience you feel comfortable sharing.

This assignment is in 3 parts:

 

Some ideas for getting started:  Begin with something SPECIFIC:  

Imaging:

Use Lynda Barry's series of questions from What It Is to plumb your memories, as we did in class.  Start by making a list of "other people's mothers" or pets or houses or cars or classmates from childhood or things you have lost or almost anything else.  Look over your list and choose one, preferably one that came to you rather than one you had to think up.  Take notes on these questions.  No need for complete sentences.

Stay within the image.  Write what you see.  Turn all the way around, and look up and down.  Take notes again.

Begin with the words "I am..." and, writing in the present tense, tell us what is happening in this image.  No detail is too small.  Write for 7 minutes.  Do not stop writing.  If words stop coming, draw a doodle or spiral in the margin to keep your pen moving.  Don't stop to think.  

Freewrite:

Another strategy is to FREEWRITE in a chaotic way, amassing words that you later turn into sentences and paragraphs. Try to amass at least a page of material before you stop and reread.  Then reread your "mess," and decide on an ATTITUDE toward your subject and your audience (Will you be humorous, serious, meditative, jazzy, sweet, ironic? Will you try to amuse or inform the readers, make them think, persuade them of something? etc.) and an ORGANIZATIONAL PATTERN (What would be a strong, attention-getting beginning?  Should you tell the story chronologically, or in flashbacks, or through a comparison, or as a dialogue, or in some other way?  What should go last?).  

Show, Don't Tell:

Remember as you write your draft to SHOW the reader what you mean, rather than TELL it.  Use specific, sensuous language.  Try dialogue to spark up your piece.  If you like, imitate successful strategies in other personal essays we've read.  Make us WANT to read on. 

Revise and Edit:

Consider the comments of your peers when you revise your sketch.  Reread your draft, trying to SEE IT ANEW.  Does the essay maintain throughout the same attitude toward the subject and reader?  What questions does the essay raise and not answer?  Where is there not enough detail, or too much?  Are the details arranged in the best order?  Is the opening attention grabbing? Does the conclusion feel like an ending?  Also use the advice in Chapter 7 of Writing True.  REVISE in light of that chapter, these questions, and your peers' comments.

EDIT your sentences for smoothness, correctness, and clarity.  Edit your words for appropriateness, endings, spelling. PROOFREAD.  Print 2 copies, one for me and one for yourself.  Also email me a copy.

The great French essayist Montaigne tells his readers,  "I want to be seen here in my simple, natural, ordinary fashion, without straining or artifice, for it is myself that I portray. . . .  I am myself the matter of my book."

 

Student Comments on the Autobiographical Sketch:

Roxanne Edwards:

My advice to those who are thinking about writing about a traumatic experience that took place in their lives and who donít want to reveal themselves as that person: write an initial draft filled with emotions as if you were telling another person about the incident. Then you should rewrite the paper, this time eliminating most of the emotions. In this way you get your point across to the readers without their having to fight through all the emotions. It makes for easier reading.

Jennifer Cornwall:

Writing my autobiography was the most difficult piece of expository writing I did for this course. I have always had a love for writing, but until now my writing has been for my eyes only; therefore, the prospect of writing for strangers to read was very intimidating.... I started the piece by writing about frivolous things that occurred in my life, but I felt as if I was telling lies because growing up was not a frivolous experience for me. I also had a problem figuring out how much of myself I wanted to reveal. After several false starts, topic changes, content changes, and a wastebasket full of balled up pages, I had to stop and meditate for a while. This is when I decided that I should tell the truth, the barefaced raw reality of my past, since the life I have had was not unfamiliar to the rest of society.

I decided that sharing my story with others who may be going through the same experiences could be not only soul-cleansing and therapeutic for me, but also a catalyst that might help change the lives of others who read it and realize that my story is also their story. I thought that maybe I could help someone by letting them know that despite the odds, they too can become productive human beings.