Writing about yourself can be harder than writing about someone else or writing a fictional story. It can be difficult to see your own life objectively and to choose the moments worth writing about. At Writer’s Relief, we know literary editors and readers enjoy personal essays that share lessons and explore the quirks of human nature in a relatable way. Here’s how to connect with your readers and write a personal essay worth publishing.
How To Write A Noteworthy Personal Essay
What is a personal essay? A personal essay is a short form of autobiographical creative nonfiction written in the first person. It can be written in any style, from formal and academic to conversational and intimate. Engaging personal essays usually include insights, a lesson learned, or a way in which the author changed or grew. The following tips will help you craft a personal essay with better odds of getting published.
Choose a worthwhile topic. Don’t use this as an excuse to vent—save that for your journaling. Instead, decide what worthwhile information you want to share about yourself and why. Is it a significant moment in your life that profoundly affected you and the way you think? Who needs to hear your story? Identify and target your reader.
Narrow your focus. While you can write your essay about anything, focus on a specific event or topic—you’re not writing an entire memoir or autobiography. Whether you’re writing about a fond memory or a tragic event, limiting yourself to about 3,500 words on one message or experience will help you hold your audience’s attention.
Maintain the structure. We all learned in school that an essay has three main parts: an introduction, the body paragraphs, and a conclusion. A personal essay is no different. Maintaining this structure in your writing will help create an effective narrative. Open with a hook that states what you want to talk about, follow up with supporting details, and conclude with a summary and a call to action.
Be detailed and specific. A good argument should have details to back it up. The same goes for good personal essays, whether academic or creative nonfiction. Be sure to incorporate all the important elements of your message. Draw your readers in by including your senses, thoughts, and feelings so they can experience the moment with you.
DO NOT rely on shock value. It’s tempting to exaggerate and hyperbolize for the sake of grabbing attention, but this can end up cheapening your narrative. Avoid clickbait and instead put your efforts into writing the best story you can. Create something real, not fantastical.
Ask for input and recollections. Writing objectively about yourself isn’t easy, so it can be helpful to ask for a second or third account of the personal story you’re writing about. If possible, ask others what they remember about the event—and what they remember about you during that time. This will improve your ability to write about yourself more truthfully, and your story will be more relatable.
Seek feedback from other writers. Consult your local or online writing community and ask your peers for feedback and advice. Other writers can help you fine-tune your personal essay to improve your structure and rhetoric.
Be succinct. It might be tempting to offer a lot of exposition before getting to the heart of your essay, but clean, lean writing is a better way to grab your reader’s interest. Don’t clog your writing with words that don’t add to the meaning of the sentence. If you eliminate flowery sentences and overly long explanations, the result will be a snappier hook and a tighter conclusion.
Literary editors and readers love to read thought-provoking, interesting, and even humorous personal essays. Choose a moment from your life that offers an intriguing lesson or message and use these writing tips to create a personal essay that has the best odds of getting published and out into the world.
Question: What personal essay topics do you find most interesting and readable?