What Exactly is a Personal Essay?

Publish date:

Essentials of Writing Personal Essays Workshop

Perhaps you are a person who loves to laugh at the writing of humorists David Sedaris or Erma Bombeck. Or maybe you love the quiet, thoughtful nature explorations of Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Dillard in her book Pilgrim's Creek. Maybe you like the no-holds-barred editorials of horror master Stephen King featured on the back pages of Entertainment Weekly. Or maybe you are a person who begins each morning with a cup of coffee and your favorite hometown columnist. Each of these writers is, in his or her own way, a writer of the personal essay. Because you are here, in this class, it means that you wish to mine your life for personal essays too.

In his introduction to the definitive anthology on the subject, The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present, essayist Phillip Lopate writes, the personal essay "should certainly be celebrated, because it is one of the most approachable and diverting types of literature we possess. The hallmark of the personal essay is its intimacy?. " He goes on to explain, "At the core of the personal essay is the supposition that there is a certain unity to human experience."

And therein lies some of the form's beauty. For in using our own voices on the page, we give a voice to those who can't or do not use theirs. In the sharing of our insights and fears and dreams—everything from a reflection on the merits of our refrigerator or old car, to a commentary about the day we saved a worm on the sidewalk, to a probing of our dread of death—we explore what it means to be alive, and connect with people all over the world. We find, in the personal essay, our common denominator.

The personal essay, therefore, plays an important role. It gives a fresh perspective on, shapes, and makes manageable our lives...

Capture your most interesting moments in ways that readers will love! Click here to view the outline for this course, and to reserve your space today! This exciting workshop will help you translate your experiences, pathos, humor and insights into essays that readers can't resist! Through a fun mix of one-on-one instruction, constructive peer feedback and hands-on writing assignments, you'll learn to generate fresh ideas and combine them with the essential elements of prose, meditation and reflection. By the end of the workshop, you'll have written and revised 4-6 essays fit to print!


The “Secret Sauce” Necessary to Succeed at a 30-Day Writing Challenge

In this article, author and writing coach Nina Amir lays out her top tips to master your mindset and complete a 30-day writing challenge.


Crashing Into New Worlds: Writing About the Unfamiliar

Award-winning crime author Stephanie Kane explains how she builds characters unlike herself and navigates their worlds to create vivid and realistic stories.


Plot Twist Story Prompts: Without a Trace

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character leave without a trace.


Vintage WD: The Truth about True Crime

In this article from July 2000, true crime novelist and former New York Times correspondent Lisa Beth Pulitzer shares with us some key insights for breaking into the true crime genre.


New Agent Alert: Barb Roose of Books & Such Literary Management

New literary agent alerts (with this spotlight featuring Barb Roose of Books & Such Literary Management) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.


Evoking Emotion in Fiction: Seven Pragmatic Ways to Make Readers Give a Damn

Evoking emotion on the page begins with the man or woman at the keyboard. Dustin Grinnell serves up seven straightforward tactics for writing tear-jerking stories that make your readers empathize with your characters.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 546

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a spooky poem.


Learn Better World-Building Strategies Through World of Warcraft and the New Shadowlands Expansion

WD editor and fantasy writer Moriah Richard shares five unique ways in which writers can use World of Warcraft to better build their worlds—without playing the game.