Cordele Dispatch, Cordele, GA

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January 10, 2013

Slate: How to write a memoir

NEW YORK — There has lately been a rising backlash against the ubiquity of personal writing. Hamilton Nolan's anti-confessional diatribe in Gawker claims that journalism students are now taught only to write about themselves, which I can say as a full-time faculty member at a journalism school is patently absurd, but he raised some interesting points about the dubious rise of confessional writing over the last two decades and the market pressure, especially on younger writers, to make a splash, or at least publish something somewhere, by turning to their own, possibly limited, life experience. And then, of course, there were recent critiques of Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of "Prozac Nation," babbling incoherently about her pure heart in New York Magazine.

All of which leads me to believe it may be time to think methodically about what separates good confessional writing from bad confessional writing. It's dangerously cartoonish to say all personal writing is bad, and to automatically attack every writer who dares to delve into his own experience, but there are a million different ways to write personally and some of them are undoubtedly better than others. Here, then, are some basic principles I have come to over the years as both a professor and a writer:

1. The writer should turn her fierce critical eye on herself. (One of the great masters of this is Mary McCarthy, who was terrifying and brilliant in her critiques, even of her own pretentions and snobbisms.) It is always satisfying to read a writer who sharply and deftly attacks the hypocrisies and delusions of the world around him, but we trust that writer more completely when he also attacks himself, when he does not hold himself to a different standard, or protect himself from scrutiny. Take David Foster Wallace's famously dazzling essay, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again." He obsessively, comically, gorgeously dissects everything around him on the cruise ship, but does not exempt himself from his high level satire:

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  • An alternative diagnosis to ADHD: Schoolchildren need more time to move

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that in recent years, there has been a jump in the percentage of young people diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD: 7.8 percent in 2003 to 9.5 percent in 2007 to 11 percent in 2011.

    July 14, 2014

  • Why it's basically impossible to delete those naked selfies you text

    If you're selling an old Android smartphone on an online auction site, you could be giving away rather more than you intend to, according to a recent investigation by anti-malware company Avast.

    July 14, 2014

  • Can technology help you and your friends choose a restaurant?

    Deciding where to eat, drink, relax and chat with friends should be a pleasure, but instead it's an engine of hesitancy and chagrin. As a result of that hesitancy and chagrin, you often end up going to the same handful of tried and true restaurants instead of branching out. What if technology could solve this problem by collecting a party's various dietary, monetary and atmospheric preferences and producing a restaurant that will delight everyone?

    May 16, 2014

  • Your child is a natural-born liar

    If your kid has been lying, "that's very, very normal," explains Kang Lee, a developmental psychologist at the University of Toronto who has been studying lying in children for 20 years. Generally, kids start to lie by around the age of 2 1/2  or 3, usually to cover up transgressions.

    May 16, 2014

  • Cashing in on pot market proves a pipe dream for traditional pharmacies

    Americans seeking medical marijuana for anything from pain to seizures must turn to a patchwork of small startups for help as U.S. laws keep traditional pharmacies out of a market that may exceed $6 billion by 2019.

    May 16, 2014

  • b_tuesday_eisenhower_20110405sg3371.jpg Augusta National removes 'Eisenhower Tree' after ice storm

    A 65-foot tree named after the nation's 34th president on the 17th hole at Augusta National Golf Club was removed over the weekend after sustaining "irreparable damage" during an ice storm at the home of the Masters Tournament.

    February 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Football helmets don't protect side of head from blows in tests

    Players using current football helmets aren't adequately protected against hits to the side of the head, which can lead to sometimes-lethal concussions and brain swelling, researchers said.

    February 18, 2014

  • Why marrying your equal can boost inequality

    Rich and poor Americans are slowly but surely staking out separate lives. Increasingly, they have been moving to different communities, and more frequently they are also marrying people of similar income and educational backgrounds. This is a phenomenon social scientists call assortative mating.

    February 5, 2014

  • credit-card-generic.jpg Hackers probably attacked companies beyond Target, report says

    Hacking attacks like those that siphoned credit-card data from Target and Neiman Marcus are probably part of an unprecedented assault on a larger number of retailers, according to a security company working with the government.

    January 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Four ways to tell if Affordable Care Act is working

    We are now days into the health-care law's insurance expansion, which began at midnight on Jan. 1. And it is, alas, far too early to tell if the nation's new health-care reform is working.

    January 4, 2014