How to Write a Personal Essay
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An interesting story is not enough to write an outstanding personal essay. It also must be written according to a proper structure. Let us help you in overcoming all the difficulties of personal essay writing.
- Find a right angle
Maybe your life seems to be not really interesting to write about it? Of course, exciting stories are good for such essays, but if you find a right angle, even an ordinary story may impress and inspire your readers. It’s all about your understanding of an experience and lessons learned.
- For instance, you can write about a failure. Recall how you failed some test in a class. Maybe the test itself wasn’t really significant for you, but it may have pushed you to learn more and study better? You can present this story as a story of how you’ve been given extra motivation.
- Write about an important moment
Good personal essays tell stories about conflicts. You can write about how you’ve been hurt or bothered by a certain experience. Recall some significant fact from your life and share your memories with others.
- Your essay may describe some moment that impacted your whole life. For example, it can be about your father’s reaction when you told him you’re gay. Dig into your feelings and describe what exactly hurt or disturbed you.
- Moments associated with strong emotions will attract more attention. If you have strong feelings about some situation, it will help you write an essay with passion.
- Discuss a situation that caused a strong emotional response
You can also recall an event that left a long-term impression. Personal essays are about reflecting events that changed your life or your views. A chosen event must be unique, and your story must differ from anybody else. The more extraordinary the event, the more exciting your essay will be for readers.
- For example, you can remember how you’ve caught your father cheating on your mom, or how your loved one died. Think about events that determined your individuality.
- You shouldn’t necessarily choose some heavy topic. For instance, you can write about the first time you rode a bike or your date on a roller coaster. As a matter of fact, you can choose any event, but make sure that it triggered a considerable emotional reaction of any kind.
- Think about somebody you have difficulties with
If you have a difficult relationship with somebody, it may be a good topic for your personal essay. Think about someone who you would like to have in your life though you’re living apart. Remember somebody who you had complicated relationships with, and tell how these relationships impacted you.
- For example, you can tell how you’ve stopped any communications with your mother many years ago, or how you’ve distanced from your childhood friend. You can analyze your previous romantic relationships and think of why they didn’t work out.
- Reflect your feelings about current events
Along with your personal experiences, you can focus on some current events that impact you emotionally. Maybe you’re passionate about gender equality or global warming? Share your perspective and feelings with others.
- Ask yourself about an event. Maybe it reminds you of a certain experience from your life? Consider such an event in the context of your personal emotions and perspective.
- Let’s say you are interested in a situation around refugees from Syria in Europe. Tell others how your refugee status in the United States impacted your personality. By doing this, you will consider this issue from your unique perspective instead of writing a boring journalistic material.
- Develop an outline
Personal essays imply the same structure as other essay types, consisting of an introduction, a body part, and a conclusion. Let’s take a closer look at these essay sections.
- The introduction starts with “the hook”, which is aimed to grab attention. It also includes a narrative thesis which may be a beginning of the story or an idea that represents the essence of your paper.
- The body of the essay is a central part which provides evidence in order to support your narrative thesis and give more information about the considered event. In case of personal writing, all evidence is focused on your experiences and reflective analysis.
- The conclusion sums up everything that you discussed in the essay, but it’s not the only purpose of the conclusion. It also provides your readers with an ethical assessment of the story, considering the essay in more general terms. This section is the best part to tell your readers what lessons you learned and how the described experience impacted your life.
- Usually, you get asked to write five paragraphs, two of which are for the introduction and conclusion, while the remainder are the body part. When writing a personal essay, you don’t necessarily need to follow this strict structure. You may arrange paragraphs the way you want. However, make sure that they make five paragraphs in total.
- Start with a captivating setting
The introduction of your essay must begin with an engaging statement or situation. It must motivate readers to learn more. The introduction of the essay also acquaints them with characters and the essential idea of your essay.
- Don’t make your first sentence a formal explanation of what you’re going to talk about, such as “This essay describes my relations with my brother.” Just mention some particular situation or fact, and let your readers follow the natural flow of thoughts.
- Mention key characters of your essay by drawing up a scene related to your general idea.
- If you write about your relationship with your brother or any close person, you can start with a memory of you spending time together, having fun, or fighting.
- Write in your unique manner
A personal essay must be focused on you, so you have to create a comfortable atmosphere. It’s not an academic research where you have to be rigorous. Let your readers see your perspective and enjoy opportunities of the narrative voice.
- Imagine yourself talking to a friend. Another approach is talking to yourself, it makes your essay more reflective and allows you to focus on assumptions, doubts, and expectations.
- Personal essays may be written in the first person, which is a distinctive feature of this essay type. You can also experiment with tenses: writing in the present tense is more illustrative, while the use of the past tense allows you to describe more details and mention more specific situations.
- Work on your characters
You have to provide necessary details about your characters to make them more realistic. Even though it’s a real story from your life, we suggest approaching it as a plot. Describe their appearance and other characteristic features.
- You can add dialogues to your story, but make sure that they are not too long. If there are too many dialogues in your essay, it will look more like a fiction, and you don’t need it to be so.
- Create a plot
Connect described events into a plot, so that all situations will logically follow each other, leading to a moment of culmination at the end.
- If you have no idea about how your plot may look like, draw up an outline and consider all described events as pieces of evidence that support a thesis statement in other types of essays.
- Focus on telling a truth
It means that you not only have to be honest but also look for a deeper meaning along with your readers. Tell your story like if it was your attempt to realize something that you couldn’t figure out for a long time. The best personal essays often are centered around some facts and thoughts that may be hard to discuss for the author because of their intimacy.
- Take into account that sometimes a certain story may be very important and meaningful for you, but not for others. Avoid unnecessary pathos when writing about things that may be familiar to almost everyone.
- For example, you may write about the death of a person that was very important for you. At the same time, almost everyone from your audience experienced such things, so they won’t perceive your story as something unique. Remember that they also don’t know people who you write about.
- Let’s say you write that essay about death. Make sure that your essay contains a deep meaning. Don’t say that you felt bad, focus on how that person affected you and your life, and why he or she was so important for you.
- Try various styles and writing techniques
There are many techniques that can improve the quality of your essay, such as personifications or metaphors. Make your essay stronger by demonstrating your advanced writing skills.
- For example, writing about your father’s reaction on your confession about your sexual orientation, use a metaphor and describe his face as a face of a stone statue frozen in confusion.
- Read your work out loud
We suggest reading your essay out loud so you could hear what it sounds like. You can read it to your friends or relatives to see their reaction. It will help you understand what you can add and what to get rid of.
- While reading, pay special attention to sentences that sound unclear or raise doubts. Make sure that your characters look realistic and that the whole story develops as a plot line. Ask yourself whether your essay provides a deeper meaning, and think how you can do it if it doesn’t. Revise your essay and read it as many times as needed to find out all weak spots.
- Proofread your essay
Once you’ve written the whole essay, take a little break and then read it in order to find any grammatical mistakes. Make sure that the idea of your essay is clear, unique and interesting. It must represent you as a person. Recall the reaction of your audience when you’ve read it out loud and make some changes if necessary.
- While revising an essay, ask yourself, is your topic worth writing about it? Is this story really important to you? Is it easy to understand? Don’t make your readers concerned about what you’ve been trying to say.
- Look over the structure of the essay and make sure that it’s focused on a certain idea or question.