New L.A. Times Piece

I wrote a lengthy feature on confessional writing that appears in this Sunday’s Los Angeles Times. Many thanks to the writers who talked with me for the piece and who put up with my laryngitis. I did try to include everyone, but alas, I ended up talking to far more people than I probably should have. So I’m sorry if you didn’t make it in.

[UPDATE: Ms. Bussel and I talked for close to 90 minutes for this piece and she’s offered some additional perspective on her blog: “Me, I’m much more PG than I am NSFW, and yet by dint of what I do for a living, most of what you’ll stumble across on line is about matters sexual. But talk to me at a party and I’ll quiz you about your babies or your workout routine or your creative endeavors. I’ll ask you about your bad dates and favorite cupcakes. Sure, Martha and I probably horrified some of the Etsy folks with our sex talk, but I don’t think that’s a me thing, it’s a comfort with the topic, amongst friends.”]


  1. Fascinating. Some of the confessional stuff is interesting and well-done; a good writer is a good writer, no? But much of it does seem to feed the same “craving to know” that drives others to read People? How much sexual confession do we really need to read before realizing we ain’t so vanilla after all, or that women have dirty thoughts?

    I leave much (as you, Ed, well know) out of my blog. First of all, my personal life involves other people, who didn’t necessarily ask to be exposed to the world. Second, who really cares? How much confession can one read before becoming uncomfortably numb?

    Terrific piece. Take care of that throat.


  2. Interesting stuff. I’d be interested in you taking the additional material and gathering it into something longer/fleshier for the magazine crowd.

    It seems as though you’ve identified some different strains of the “confessional writer.” Sedaris doesn’t seem confessional to me since it’s clear so much of it is invented or at least exaggerated. I think he’s entertaining, but that’s not the kind of honesty I expect in a truly “confesisonal” writer.

    Then there’s the stunt writer, which seems to be aided and abetted by the blogosphere. They seek to do something that will spur material that benefits from being written in a confessional manner. There’s a cart before the horse aspect to this, that seems to me could skew both the actions during the experience that they’re going to write about as well as way those actions are portrayed, a kind of “Real World” (the TV show) effect. Most of the books of that kind that I’ve tried I tend to find facile, exercises in attention seeking.

    Then of course there’s the true confessional writer. The example I’m thinking of off the top of my head is Stephen Elliott. (I think I first heard about him on this blog, as a matter of fact.) There’s no performance there, just unbelievable honesty about his life and what he’s done.

    I’d love to see you explore some of these distinctions in more depth, maybe even find the best examplars of each form.

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