How Do You Motivate Yourself to Write Personal Essays?

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

I have a lot of ideas for personal essays that I’ve been wanting to write about lately, but a busy work and social life have led to weeks of procrastination. When I do have free time, distractions get in the way, and I’m left thinking, “Tomorrow. I’ll write tomorrow.”

I have no problem churning out stories for work, mainly because I have deadlines that leave me with little time to worry about being overly self-critical or about perfecting my leads. These inhibitions seem to get in the way, as does the uncertainty of where to start.

The more I think about wanting to write a memoir, the more I wonder: How do you start a memoir? When there’s so much to write about, how do you find focus in a lifetime of memories and experiences?

I think it helps if you decide to write for yourself instead of writing to impress an audience. Thinking about writing for publication, especially when it comes to writing intimate personal essays, can be intimidating and can lead to unnecessary delays in the writing process.

Maybe writing down my ideas will motivate me to pursue them and carve out more time for personal writing. Doesn’t hurt to try.

Ideas:

An essay about Sundays. Growing up, Sundays were always family days. My mom, dad and I would take day trips to Boston, go for bike rides and snack on mocha almond chip ice cream. But that all changed when I saw my mom for the last time on Sunday, Feb. 9, 1997. Her skin was yellow, her eyes sunken in, her face a portrait of pain. She died that day. We should have been at church together. We should have been strolling along the streets of Boston, laughing and forgetting that we had to return to the reality of work and school the next day. Since mom died, Sunday has been my least favorite day and has continued to be difficult for me, try though I might to make it a good day. Funny how what’s supposed to be “the day of rest” is a day that I often equate with pain and suffering.

An essay about father-daughter bonds. In my dad’s mind, I can do no wrong. Maybe it’s because I’m an only child and he can spoil me like that. More so, though, it’s because we have been through so much together. My dad has always believed in me, even when others were doubtful. He’s always encouraging, instilling in me a sense that no goals are too lofty and that failure is not something to be feared. We live more than 1,000 miles apart now, but we remain close, even despite the fact that he’s “not a good phone talker,” as he says. It frustrates me that he’s not a man of many words on the phone — unless, of course, he’s talking about cars or guitars. Sometimes, though, his silence is enough.

An essay about people not understanding what “a little bit” means. This is one of my pet peeves. I’ve stopped asking for whipped cream on my drinks at Starbucks because whenever I ask for “just a little bit,” I get a huge scoop of it. I’ve tried “just a teeny bit,” “just a smidgen” and “just a dollop,” but the mounds of whip cream seem to get bigger every time! I used to experience this in college, too. I’d ask for “one slice of cheese, please” on my veggie wrap, and inevitably the woman making the sandwiches would say, “Oh, I’ll give you two!” Sometimes I just want a dollop, a slice, and nothing more.

An essay about bugs. Lord knows I’ve had my share of bug problems since moving down to Florida. But who hasn’t? Fleas (twice), swarming termites that forced me to move out of my old  apartment, black ants in my car. And lizards, too! Talking about the bugs I’ve encountered, and my reaction to them, would make for a funny essay, especially given my phobia of creepy crawlers.

What tips do you have for motivating yourself to write personal essays?

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