Good writing works from a simple premise: your experience is not yours alone, but in some sense a metaphor for everyone's.
from A Poet's Companion
I came across this line in some reading for my poetry class and I thought, "EXACTLY." That's what we aim for, anyway. It's the same "personal as universal" idea that came up in the memoir writing workshop, and slowly but surely I am understanding how to incorporate this into my writing. I think it has something to do with getting down to what the experience was really about, and working up from there. But I think sometimes I've found it most helpful to just start writing about the experience, and the writing itself helps me to drill down to the real meaning.
I think poetry (good, accessible poetry) is the master of this, because of the mandate for rich images. I'm also learning about line and stanza structure, which is kinda like getting a new set of really good speakers: now I'm listening to a fuller, deeper music I never knew was there.Or at least could never articulate. (Because really good poets can make you feel the music in their writing without the un-studied poet really understanding, I think.)
For any food writers or poets or curious people out there, I also wanted to share this blog post on food writing. She gets at the same point: that writing about food is about food and so much more. It's about universal themes like memory, relationships, security and happiness (among other things, of course).
I'll leave you with a poem that I think does this well. Jane Kenyon is a favorite of mine, and a master at making her experience available to everyone through her poetry.
Thinking of Madame Bovary
The first hot April day the granite step
was warm. Flies droned in the grass.
When a car went past they rose
in unison, then dropped back down...
I saw that a yellow crocus bud had pierced
a dead oak leaf, then opened wide. How strong
its appetite for the luxury of the sun!
Everyone longs for love's tense joys and red delights.
And then I spied an ant
dragging a ragged, disembodied wing
up the warm brick walk. It must have been
the Methodist in me that leaned forward,
preceded by my shadow, to put a twig just where
the ant was struggling with its own desire.
(via Writer's Almanac, 4/12/12)