Susi Wyss is one of our great Associate Editors that read through the submissions.
Less than 10% of prose submissions to the Potomac Review are non-fiction. As an Associate Editor at the Potomac Review, I would love to see more personal essays appear in our pages. As a writer, though, I also know how hard it is to craft them–to avoid narcissism but still be personally revealing, to touch the reader without becoming maudlin, and to be detailed and specific while revealing universal themes and truths.
After writing fiction for the last ten years and finally completing a manuscript of linked stories, I find myself inexplicably drawn to trying to write some personal essays. Of course, I have no idea how to do it or even how to start. Whenever I’m blocked or need help writing fiction, I turn to examples from more experienced writers. I decided to do the same with essays, and turned to Danielle Ofri’s book, Singular Intimacies, which was originally published in 2003 but was reissued by Beacon Press this year. I had the pleasure of working with Danielle over a year ago in her capacity as an editor when the Bellevue Literary Review published one of my stories. Reading her book, I was delighted to learn that she writes as well as she edits.
Though her essays are specific to her experiences as a medical student and doctor at Bellevue Hospital, they have all the elements of good writing–conflict, suspense, gorgeous descriptions, and a vivid glimpse into a life that is different and yet not so different from anyone else’s. On top of that she is a compassionate and painfully honest observer–about her own misgivings and mistakes, about the limitations of the medical establishment, and ultimately about the fleeting nature of life. In one of my favorite chapters, “The Burden of Knowledge,” the personal collides with the professional and her white coat no longer offers her the protection she has come to rely on.
If you’re looking for inspiration to improve your creative non-fiction, check out Danielle’s book or any other book by your favorite essayist. And if it inspires you to write an essay that touches the reader the way they do, please consider sending it our way. I’ll look forward to reading it when our submission period opens again next fall.