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A Few Tips for Writing Personal Essays

Here are a few tips for writing personal essays from the Publishing Insights column of the March/April 2021 issue of Writer's Digest.

A great way to improve your own personal essays is to read effective personal essays by other writers. However, here are a few tips on writing personal essays to get you started.

(Originally appeared in March/April 2021 Writer's Digest.)

A Few Tips for Writing Personal Essays

3 Tips for Writing Personal Essays

  • Start in the action. If your story has some backstory, save it for later in your personal essay. The beginning should have a compelling scene that hooks the reader and makes them want to learn more.
  • Build up to the reveal. Speaking of learning more, don’t reveal the ending at the beginning or even the middle. Rather, hint at a reveal or big conclusion early on and string the reader out to the big payoff at the end.
  • Share a takeaway. Keep in mind that many readers who love personal writing aren’t in it just to read people writing about themselves. Okay, maybe a little. But many readers like to find takeaways in personal essays, whether that’s a life lesson, a memorable moment, or a good laugh. There’s a story in everyone; your job is to figure out how to make it meaningful to someone else.

(How to Create a Narrative Arc for Personal Essays.)

One More Important Tip 

Don’t hold back. If you’re going to write a personal essay, write a personal essay. Dig deep into the roots of your story, how it makes you feel, what the low points were, and the embarrassing moments. If it makes you feel something, then there’s a chance a reader has felt that something too. You can only make that connection if you have the bravery to bare it all.

*****

Writing the Personal Essay 101

This course guides beginning and intermediate writers through elements of how to write a personal essay, helping them identify values expressed in their stories and bring readers into the experiences described. Writers learn how to avoid the dreaded responses of “so what?" and “I guess you had to be there" by utilizing sensory details, learning to trust their writing intuitions, and developing a skilled internal editor to help with revision.

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