Pat Olsen has written an excellent article about writing personal essay in the December 2013 issue of The Writer magazine. Highlights:
“. . . when I am so obsessed about an idea that I can’t wait to put pen to paper, the essay almost writes itself. That’s not so say I don’t struggle over every word, or that I’m done after the first draft . . . Some of the best advice I’ve received is that it’s not only what you choose to include in an essay that’s important, but it’s also what you choose to omit.” She gives an example and then goes on to ask:
“Are there actual rules for essay writing? If so, not all writers agree on them.” After consulting essayists, here’s what she discovered:
Kate Walter: “‘An essay should have a universal theme . . . No matter how unusual a story may seem,’ she says, ‘there should be a broader theme that every reader can identify with.”
Andrea King Collier: “‘Voice is everything,’ she notes. ‘Two people can write an essay on the loss of a parent, and it is the voice and the approach/lens of the writer that can make one sing over the other.'”
Bob Brody: “Start with an anecdote, a scene or an observation, Brody advises. Go back in time or stay in the present. Have a single big moment or a series of big moments.”
Amy Paturel: “The best essays, she says, are about a transformation. ‘Between the beginning and the end of your essay, there has to be some sort of epiphany or awakening . . . ”
Andrea Cooper: “. . . take a break from your essay. ‘I studied once with memoirist Patricia Hampl, who encouraged us to think of revision literally,’ she says. “It’s re-vision, re-seeing.'”
Lots of good information in this article about writing personal essay.
Nina Amir posts writing prompts on her blog. Her January 31, 2014 post, about personal essays, includes Writing Prompt #9, Brainstorm Personal Essay topics.
Nina writes, “Personal essays tend to focus on one particular event and how it affected you or your life. They often have universal themes that makes it possible for readers to relate to personal stories.”