Definition Of Personal Essay

Definition Of Personal Essay-52
Indie sites known for cultivating first-person writing—the Toast, the Awl, the Hairpin—have shut down or changed direction.Thought Catalog chugs along, but it seems to have lost its ability to rile up outside readers.Some of the online publishers that survive have shifted to video and sponsored posts and Facebook partnerships to shore up revenue.

Indie sites known for cultivating first-person writing—the Toast, the Awl, the Hairpin—have shut down or changed direction.Thought Catalog chugs along, but it seems to have lost its ability to rile up outside readers.Some of the online publishers that survive have shifted to video and sponsored posts and Facebook partnerships to shore up revenue.

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As Silvia Killingsworth, who was previously the managing editor of and took over the Awl and the Hairpin last year, put it to me, “People love to talk about themselves, and they were given a platform and no rules.” Then the invisible hand of the page-view economy gave them a push: Web sites generated ad revenue in direct proportion to how many “eyeballs” could be attracted to their offerings, and editorial budgets had contracted in the wake of the recession.

The forms that became increasingly common—flashy personal essays, op-eds, and news aggregation—were those that could attract viral audiences on the cheap.

One could “take a safari” through various personal-essay habitats—Gawker, Jezebel, xo Jane, Salon, Buzz Feed Ideas—and conclude that they were more or less the same, she argued.

While she granted that not all first-person writing on the Internet was undignified, there were far too many “solo acts of sensational disclosure” that read like “reverse-engineered headlines.”The market, in Bennett’s view, had overinflated.

“First-person writing should not be cheap, and it should not be written or edited quickly,” Gould wrote to me.

“And it should be published in a way that protects writers rather than hanging them out to dry on the most-emailed list.”There are still a few outlets that cultivate a more subtle and sober iteration of this kind of first-person writing, some of them connected to book publishing.These essays began to proliferate several years ago—precisely when is hard to say, but we can, I think, date the beginning of the boom to 2008, the year that Emily Gould wrote a first-person cover story, called “Exposed,” for the , which was about, as the tagline put it, what she gained and lost from writing about her intimate life on the Web.Blowback followed, and so did an endless supply of imitations.Sarah Hepola, who worked as Salon’s personal-essay editor, described the situation to me in an e-mail.“The boom in personal essays—at Salon, at least, but I suspect other places—was in part a response to an online climate where more content was needed at the exact moment budgets were being slashed.” When I worked as an editor at the Hairpin and Jezebel, from 2013 to 2016, I saw up close how friendly editors and ready audiences could implicitly encourage writers to submit these pieces in droves.There were the one-off body-horror pieces, such as “My Gynecologist Found a Ball of Cat Hair in My Vagina,” published by xo Jane, or a notorious lost-tampon chronicle published by Jezebel.There were essays that incited outrage for the life styles they described, like the one about pretending to live in the Victorian era, or Cat Marnell’s oeuvre.When I began writing on the Internet, I wrote personal essays for free.For some writers, these essays led to better-paying work.Personal essays cry out for identification and connection; what their authors often got was distancing and shame.Bennett deemed the personal-essay economy a “dangerous force for the people who participate in it.”By that point, writers, editors, and readers had become suspicious of one another, and the factors that produced the personal-essay boom had started to give way.

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