Write Until It Hurts: The Art of the Personal Essay

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I've been a journalist -- either as an intern, a full-time reporter, or a freelance writer -- for ten years. I've seen my byline in The Seattle Times, The Chicago Sun-Times, several other newspapers and even in a few national magazines. But something was missing. Never had I seen my byline in one of my favorite publications, skirt! magazine. For years I'd submitted essays to be considered for inclusion in the print publication but only to receive that polite but still heartbreaking rejection email. 
This summer that all changed. My essay  A Darker Shade of Brown was published in the July 2011 issue of skirt! magazine.  

Recently, I sat down and took a look at that essay and compared it to others I'd submitted to the magazine to figure out what I finally did right. Here's what I've come up with:

Listen to your English teacher. I always tell my students that the introductory paragraph is like an advertisement for your essay. I tell them that one way to hook your reader is with a great anecdote. So when writing an essay on colorism I did just that. I started the piece with a story of a woman telling me I was pretty despite my dark brown skin. 

Tell a story that only you can. That's one piece of advice authors Emily Giffin and Claire Cook both gave to us women writers at the skirt! Creative Conference. I believe my essay filled a void. Colorism isn't talked about much even in black publications let alone those for a predominately white audience. This was something that needed to be shared and I could be the person to do it. 

No pain, no game. When it hurts to write, I know that's a story worth sharing. Reliving all the insensitive things people that I love have said to me about my complexion was not fun. But seeing my name in skirt! magazine made it worth it. 


  1. I will have to add your new blog to the blogging presentation I'm giving at Women Who Write on Thursday.

    This particular post is quite timely. I started writing something I plan to submit somewhere just yesterday. Would love if you would elaborate on how you got your byline into the other publications you mentioned.

  2. Well, I was an intern at the Seattle Times. I was also an intern with the Associated Press and during that time the Chicago Sun-Times picked up a couple of my stories. The national magazine bylines were freelance gigs that I got (and continue to get) by keeping in touch with people that I've worked with in the past who are now assigning editors. I've also snagged freelance jobs simply by emailing editors, but we will usually have some sort of link such as a mutual friend or hobby. I hope that helps. Thanks so much for including my blog in your Women Who Write presentation.

  3. You are pretty, but not just because of your complexion, it is the soul shine that radiates out of you!

  4. I loved your post and it's one of the reasons I have never been able to call myself a writer. I've always hesitated to write about things that hurt with any kind of honesty. I look forward to reading your personal essays! And maybe one day...

  5. Thank you, Cindy. That means a lot coming from someone like you, someone with such a beautiful spirit and generous heart. I'm so glad I met you!

    Rebecca, I wouldn't say that you can't be a "real" writer without writing about these things. But these are the risks I believe I must take to be successful at the kind of writing that I do and want to do.