I have read many personal essays and I’ve also written quite a few as well. There are a few things that separate a good personal essay from a great one. When writing personal essays, you want that writing to be compelling. You want your readers to be enthralled in your story from the first sentence to the last.
We all want to feel ‘connected’ to each other and one of the best ways to feel that connection is through shared experience and relatable content. Personal essays should not only capture the readers’ attention but also give them material that invokes real feelings.
I love sharing writing tips and helping other writers come out of their shells. If you are a writer, I would highly recommend trying your hand at personal essays. There’s a lot of magazines that accept personal essay submissions and it is a great way to really hone your craft.
Here are 10 tips to help you write a compelling personal essay:
1. Be Specific
There are times in writing where being general is beneficial, (especially in fiction). However, when it comes to personal essays, being as specific as possible is going to garner more attention and interest from the reader. They’re there for your experience, for your emotions, for your takes. Be specific.
2. Read Others’ Personal Essays
The best way to get a good feel for writing is to read the work of others. Check out some personal essays that you find intriguing. Read as many as you can. Note what you like about what you read versus what you don’t.
3. Brainstorm Various ways to Convey your Story
There are limitless ways to tell the same story. It all comes down to your voice and how you want to convey your story. Brainstorm different ways to write your personal essay. Experiment with dialogue, word usage, the overall ‘feel’ of the piece. Identify which ways work best for you. It is your story, after all.
4. Use the “3 Part” Essay Outline
Many writers, (myself included), find it particularly helpful to use outlines. In a personal essay, there are normally 3 parts: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Structure your personal essay this way and let that first draft flow.
5. Be Brutally Honest
One of the most compelling things about a great personal essay is brutal honesty. We like to hear the unfiltered truth of a personal story, (all the messiness included). The more honest you are, the more powerful your personal essay is going to be.
6. Be Prepared to Edit
As lovely as it sounds, a first draft, (of any piece of writing), is going to have mistakes, issues with the flow of the piece, and so on. All pieces of writing need edited. Be prepared to make those edits to your personal essay!
7. End Strong
A strong ending to a personal essay is one that makes the reader think. Leave them with a question, a lesson, or even a quote.
8. Avoid Adding Unnecessary Portions
Personal essays should have a clear story and while it’s okay to add some ‘extras’, avoid adding too many. You don’t want to have one of those personal essays that goes on and on and on long after the reader has lost attention. Keep the focus and avoid unnecessarily long word count.
9. Yes, there Should still be a Plot
Again, this goes back to the actual structure of the personal essay. There should be a clear beginning, middle and ending. Some of the strongest personal essays out there are going to have a solid plot.
10. Understand the Power of Your Voice
All voices and all perspectives are unique. Don’t write a cookie-cutter personal essay. Write the way you talk – the way you tell your story. Don’t be afraid to go out of bounds. The more unique the perspective of a personal essay, the better!
Practice and Learn.
The more you write and hone your craft, the better your writing is going to be. The better the writing, the more compelling your personal essay is going to be. Good luck, nerds. And as always, keep writing!