Personal essays relate the author’s intimate thoughts and experiences to universal truths.
They aren’t simply a retelling of events, though—that falls more in the realm of memoir or autobiography.
—Anne Lamott, “Blessings: After Catastrophe, A Community Unites” Your hook and opening paragraph should establish the topic of your essay (or at least allude to it) and set the scene and tone. Your challenge is to evoke those senses and feelings without flatly stating them.
All it takes to understand the importance of an outline is listening to someone who struggled to tell a personal story. The switchbacks where the teller says “But wait, I have to tell you about this part, first! An outline will help you organize your thoughts before committing them to text. Don’t say “I felt cold.” Say “I exhaled and my breath turned to vapor that hung in the air.
Here are seven tips to help you craft a personal essay that will connect with readers. Here’s a definition we like: A personal essay is a short work of autobiographical nonfiction characterized by a sense of intimacy and a conversational manner. A type of creative nonfiction, the personal essay is ‘all over the map,’ according to Annie Dillard. No subject matter is forbidden, no structure is prescribed.
Ask three different experts what a personal essay is and you’ll likely get three different answers. You get to make up your own form every time.’ —Richard Nordquist for Thought Co.They conclude with the author having learned, changed, or grown in some way and often present some truth or insight that challenges the reader to draw their own conclusions. Although the story itself is unique to the author’s experience, there’s some universal truth that speaks to us from just below the surface.Topics like facing a fear, falling in love, overcoming an obstacle, discovering something new, or making a difficult choice tackle feelings and events that happen in everyone’s life.Raise the stakes with each paragraph until you reach a climax or turning point. It’s not enough to say “And that’s what happened.” You have to describe how whatever happened shaped you.Plan to add a conclusion that will evoke an emotional response in your reader. Your essay may well be about sexism, but you need to illustrate it through the lens of a defining incident that’s deeply personal to you. Just as a good lead hooks readers and draws them along for the ride, a good conclusion releases them from your essay’s thrall with a frisson of pleasure, agreement, passion or some other sense of completion.After bringing our usual order, the “Tailgate Special,” to the table, my father begins discussing the recent performance of Apple stock with my mother, myself, and my older eleven year old sister. As I delve into the narrative with a sip of sweet tea, I feel at home. ” As I shout the counts, nineteen dancers grab and begin to spin the tassels attached to their swords while walking heel-to-toe to the next formation of the classical Chinese sword dance. Styled in a t-shirt, shorts, and a worn, dark green lanyard, I sprint across the quad from the elective ‘Speaking Arabic through the Rassias Method’ to ‘Knitting Nirvana’.Bojangle’s, a Southern establishment well known for its fried chicken and reliable fast food, is my family’s Friday night restaurant, often accompanied by trips to Eva Perry, the nearby library. A glance at my notebook reveals a collection of worn pages covered with meticulously planned formations, counts, and movements. This afternoon is just one of many at Governor’s School East, where I have been transformed from a high school student into a philosopher, a thinker, and an avid learner.With one hand on my breaded chicken and the other on I can barely sit still as the thriller unfolds. Through sharing videos of my performances with my relatives or discovering and choreographing the nuances of certain regional dances and their reflection on the region’s distinct culture, I deepen my relationship with my parents, heritage, and community. While I attend GS at Meredith College for Natural Science, the lessons learned and experiences gained extend far beyond physics concepts, serial dilutions, and toxicity.When I step on stage, the hours I’ve spent choreographing, creating poses, teaching, and polishing are all worthwhile, and the stage becomes my home. I learn to trust myself to have difficult yet necessary conversations about the political and economic climate. Although I’ve lived in the same house in Cary, North Carolina for 10 years, I have found and carved homes and communities that are filled with and enriched by tradition, artists, researchers, and intellectuals.Everyone has a story to tell and a message to share.The challenge lies in getting that story and message out of your head and into print in a way that resonates with your audience.