We aren’t born knowing how to write personal essays.
So, how does one learn to write personal essays?
The following is inspired from “A Few Tips for Writing Personal Essays,” by Robert Lee Brewer, March/April 2021 Writer’s Digest.
Read personal essays!
Then write. You will discover your style as you write.
~ Start with action. Save backstory for later in the essay. The beginning should have a compelling scene that hooks readers and makes them want to continue reading.
The following is an example of “start with action.” The hook compelled me to read the entire essay.
“When he walked into a San Francisco barbershop after the war, he was told by the owner, ‘We don’t serve Japs here.’
The owner of the barbershop obviously didn’t know who the one-armed Japanese-American was – his name was Daniel Inouye. And, according to one website that honors heroes, he was one tough ‘badass.’” — The Jon S. Randal Peace Page, (Facebook) September 5, 2019
~ Build up to the reveal. Don’t reveal the ending at the beginning or even the middle. Rather, hint at a reveal or big conclusion early on and string out details to the big payoff at the end.
~ Share a takeaway. Many people who love personal essays aren’t in it just to read about people writing about themselves. Readers want a “takeway,” like a life lesson, a memorable event, or a good laugh. Figure out how to make your story meaningful to another person.
~ Let go of your fears. Don’t hold back. If you’re going to write a personal essay, write a personal essay. Dig deep into your story. You can only make a connection with readers if you are brave to tell all.
Read personal essays to learn how to write personal essays:
“What Have We Here: Essays about Keeping House and Finding Home ” By Susan Bono
Magazines (print and online) featuring personal essays:
Modern Love (New York Times column)