CNF tip of the week: lyric essay

Lyric Essay

A lyric essay uses the techniques of poetry, including compression, sound play, white space, formal innovation, non-linear narrative, and juxtaposition to explore an idea or an experience in the writer’s life. Lyric essays may be structured as collage or mosaic, as braided or woven narratives, as “flash” snapshots, or wedged within the carapace of other forms such as instruction manuals, rejection letters, lists, or maps, and they may also make use of images. They often rely on research in addition to personal experience. Typically, they make greater demands on the reader than other types of creative nonfiction, so for some, they are an acquired taste—but those who love them can’t get enough!

A few examples

Brenda Miller: “36 Holes.”

Nicole Breit: “Spectrum.” (CNFC award winner!)

Eula Biss: “The Pain Scale.”

Judith Kitchen: “On the Farm.”

To learn more

CNF tip of the week: personal essay

Personal Essay

To “essay” means to try, and a personal essay is an informal and idiosyncratic attempt to explore an idea and its relationship to the author’s life. Rooted in personal experience and often written in an intimate voice, like a letter to a friend, it is also a record of a mind at work, a way of thinking on the page. A flexible and capacious form, it is open to any subject and to a range of tones, although its exploratory, self-questioning stance is its special signature and strength.

A few examples

Virginia Woolf: “Street Haunting.”

Annie Dillard: “Total Eclipse.”

Jane Silcott: “Divine Language.”

John Sherman: “Taking Up Smoking at the End of the World.”

To learn more (password protected for CNFC members) (for fun)

CNF tip of the week: memoir


A memoir is an attempt to make artful sense of some aspect or period of the author’s life. The facts may be unusual or traumatic, or they may be ordinary and unremarkable. “What happened” is less important in memoir than the clarity, grace, or originality of the writer’s style and the honest pursuit of self-knowledge. As V.S. Pritchett said, “It’s all in the art. You get no credit for living.”

A few examples

Joan Didion: “Goodbye to All That.

Kevin Chong: “Every Stepfather Has His Day.”

Ayelet Tsabari: “Yemeni Soup and Other Recipes.”  (scroll for PDF)

Eufemia Fantetti: “Alphabet Autobiographica.”

To learn more