Roxane Gay and writing about oneself

“Having a Heart, Being Alive” by Roxane Gay

I am a fiction writer who stumbled into writing nonfiction. Though I had written a handful of essays as a younger writer, I spent most of my time writing stories and trying to lose myself in the lives of imaginary others.

I also resented how as a woman, it seemed like to write nonfiction, I had to savage my own life to find stories people would be willing to hear. I wanted to keep my stories to myself.

When I began to write more essays, I thought carefully about the choices I would make in exploring myself. What parts of my life was I willing to expose? What parts of my life was I willing to share? I didn’t want to simply bare my pain and have that be enough. At the same time, I was tired of carrying my past around, unexamined.

Why do these explorations of myself matter? How do I make them matter? How do I make my words more than catharsis, more than mere excavations of pain?

I’m still finding my way to the answers to these questions.

There are never going to be universally satisfying answers to these questions. That’s okay.

Like this:



Beautifully broken (fix it with gold)


Murals of Cincinnati


  1. I can really appreciate the insights here. I’ve been working on memoir and essays and it’s a hard balancing act between what to put it and what to leave out. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Ooo, I’m glad to hear you’re working on something! I bet it’s going to be great. <3

      PS: My advice: Write like no one will ever read it. You can always edit later. ;)

  2. I think writing always means exposing yourself — it just comes in somewhat different form if it’s “fiction” or “nonfiction.”

    When I was married, my sister-in-law (one of them) said she was writing a novel, and that it wasn’t in the least autobiographical. In the interests of family harmony, I didn’t say anything.

    She dropped the project abruptly some months later, when she suddenly realized how autobiographical it was.

    • Haha! I agree, all writing comes from within. But there is still a distinction between fact and fiction; a different kind of vulnerability.

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