Essay Shy

Saturday, May 28, 2011

“Mom, I wrote an essay about you and sold it!”
Over the phone there was just silence. L – o – n – g silence. Not my mom’s usual enthusiasm about my writing.
“Mom? It’s a nice essay. You’ll like it.” Hey, let’s face it…we could all write essays complaining about our mothers. Maybe she thought it was that kind of essay.
“I wish you wouldn’t have done that.”
Actually, I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve gone down this bumpy road before. My family doesn’t like the spotlight—no matter how small it is—that my writing shines on them. Before Career Day at school my eight year old instructed me not to mention the children’s book I wrote about him (even though it's never been published). My 19 year old barricaded herself in her room during high school when not only did I write an essay about her but it was published online. Online! Where her friends could find it! Although I’ve met her friends and they don’t seem the Christian Science Monitor target audience. My husband was equally mortified when an essay about him ended up in a Canadian magazine. My 16 year old has been spared the horror of being the subject of one of my personal essays. Instead, I’m using her in a YA novel I’m outlining. Shhh, don’t tell her.
Really, what do they expect? They’re personal essays. About people I personally know. Let me introduce you to my family, a.k.a. source material.
These are not “my family is horrible” essays. Because overall we’re a loving sort of family. Basically, these are “Awwww, how sweet” essays. So why all the dismay?
I suppose it's like your mom telling baby stories to your new boyfriend (which I just want noted that I do NOT do). Mom thinks it’s cute; you, not so much.
But what’s a writer to do? Is there anyone strong enough to resist the temptation to capture their family on paper—no matter how much they protest?
So inquiring minds want to know: Is it just my family, or is everyone’s family essay shy?

Jodi Webb has written many essays about her family, her latest for NPR This I Believe about her mom. It won't be her last. Her family is considering entering the Witness Relocation Program. Read more about writing (and occasional family snippets) at Words by Webb.


Unknown said...

One of the hazards of the job, I guess.
Your family is not the only one that is a bit publicity shy.
You can always write about the family pet??
Not sure of the solution!:))

ML said...


How true. We all try to hide behind whatever scraps of anonymity we have left, which is precious little, but gimme a break! If you can't use your family for fodder, what good are they!

Robyn Chausse said...

So far I have always asked before using any personal stories, and they have all been happy stories. But I must admit that one of my neices married someone who would be a really good character for a children's book--a book about a bad child with no manners. I even have the title but...that would give away his name, so for now I will be nice:)

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