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Personal Essay Writing Guide

The easiest way to write a personal essay is to use the standard form taught in Composition 101: an introductory paragraph followed by three paragraphs outlining three main points and a final summary paragraph. But instead of just blathering about yourself, describe vivid scenes and what they mean to you, such as when your 2-year-old son, Jordan, solemnly declares from the bathtub “I can't swim—my penis is hard” and you tell him it's OK, it's normal, knowing it'll subside and he'll be able to swim soon, but you don't tell him that teeny little weenie he's holding will be the source of the most intense worries, sorrows, and pleasures he'll ever experience, and you wonder if you'll ever be able to tell him the truth. You could follow this thought with the trials and tribulations of your own penis, unless you're a woman—but of course females are involved with love, sex, and life built around their own body parts, which can provide many interesting topics. The key to maintaining reader interest is to be open and honest, displaying your concerns and fears through specific, true-life examples rather than abstract concepts about how you think sex education is important because you learned the hard way on your own and you doubt you'll explain things any better than your own father did. Follow this format and, while you may not become a world-renowned author, you will be able to complete a personal essay.

Use five sentences in each paragraph. Some authors, like Faulkner, write immensely long sentences that drift into nooks and crannies of life, enlightening the reader about how, at age 16, you were tricked by a girl into trying on ring sets from her mom's jewelry-making equipment to find your ring size and later presented with a black onyx and silver ring you were too scared to wear because it implied going steady, which leads to sex, and Dad had just given you and your brother a box of Trojans the week before when Mom and Brooke had gone shopping at Sears for dresses and you were as uncomfortable as Dad when he grunted out his heart-to-heart “Use these to be safe,” especially since you'd recently calculated and realized he'd knocked Mom up with you when she was 16 and he was out of the army after a four-year hitch and you figured it must have happened by accident since their meeting was accidental, him picking her and her sisters up at a railroad crossing in the rain on Halloween and giving them a ride home, coming later to visit, finally getting down in April without a condom or maybe with one that broke and there you are in December but at least they'd gotten married over the summer and you realize it's April now and you stare at the ring and finally throw it away and tell her later you don't wear jewelry. Tough guys like Hemingway write short, straightforward sentences, such as: “The author stopped typing. His thick fingers lay bare on the keyboard. Although he's been married for eight years, his ring finger is naked. His wife knows he doesn't wear jewelry. Ever.” Yet other writers like to mix up the lengths of their sentences, using long, compound run-ons that begin with one thought then drive on to others but eventually circle back for completion, then follow with a short, crisp, prissy sentence that would satisfy an eighth-grade grammar teacher. Not me.

Write about things you've done or people you know, introducing your first true love or your first sexual encounter at age 17 crammed in the back of a Volkswagen Beetle with Danielle who will do it for free 'cause she has a crush on you and you need the experience to be ready for your true first time with Julie whom you love and can't get off your mind while you're wedged against the cold side window, remembering Julie's taste, the force of her tongue in your mouth, the way she holds your hard-on like she knows what she wants and you need to be sure how to do it exactly right so here you are pumping away feeling cheap and drunk and ashamed and excited and sore and thinking sex should be a lot more fun or magical than this floundering on the back seat. You can write in sober first person (“I found later with Julie I didn't need the practice session with Danielle”), but some feel this is self-serving and others, such as myself, need the safe distance from slivers of memory provided by humor, misdirection, and second or even third person (“At least he wore a condom both times”). Don't take examples from television or books or newspapers unless they have an effect on you. Don't write about Kurt Cobain's suicide after achieving fatherhood or Jimi and Janis overdosing when you were a teen unless you're a musician—even a part-time folk-rock banjo-picker—wondering how you ever made it out of adolescence since you were so horny yet scared of sex you could only function by smoking a joint first thing in the morning to slow down your thoughts yet still dragged home at midnight after playing a party and jerked off into a dark toilet bowl before passing out in bed worried if you'd wake the next morning and mostly hoping you wouldn't, having all these memories from those horrid nights years ago cascade through your mind when you returned home from a jam session last Wednesday night a little drunk and then—after checking on Jordan and his sister sleeping peacefully—crying for Kurt who'll never know his own child and crying for Jim Morrison and Carla Hill and Randy Batson who died in a car accident in high school and all the others you remember, knowing it was just luck you made it and they didn't, finally wiping away the tears as you piss tequila residue into a murky toilet before going to sleep knowing you're gonna drag tomorrow at work but sure you'll wake up in time as you always do. Write about universal themes you've experienced personally and others can relate to, like love, fear, and death—or sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.

Use specific examples that stick to one theme. Don't write generically about how condoms might break when you can write specifically about the first time with Melanie who'd just gotten over an abortion and her new IUD wasn't ready yet so you ran back to your cabin at the summer camp where you were both counselors to get the jet-black, ribbed Love Machine you'd bought in a gas station in North Carolina and carried for two years for just such an occasion but after shredded pieces of black latex dripping with semen fell onto the rumpled sheets and Melanie stared like it was a loaded shotgun pointed right at her belly and all you could do was shrug “Sorry” and the only worry on your mind was when your next day off was so you could get to town and buy some that worked because this first time with her was what you'd always hoped sex would finally turn out to be—a fun, relaxed sharing of talk, laughter, and touch. Stick to one theme. Don't write about Carla Hill in ninth grade when you were 14 if you're writing about your sex life because she was murdered before anything happened, her throat cut in her own bed during an attempted rape the night before you'd finally mustered up enough courage to ask her to go steady and your buddies had helped you out by sitting in all the seats in the front, right-hand side of the bus where she always sat, leaving the only open space right next to you so she'd just have to sit there and you had your name bracelet all ready but she never got on and everyone else was sobbing, telling you about it. I feel that stories like that, despite being of possible interest, lack relevance to the major themes of “your sex life” in this essay and should be saved for some other piece of writing—unless, of course, you can tie the story in using a new focus, perhaps discovered while writing the essay, such as maybe realizing your refusal to wear jewelry has nothing to do with your dad, condoms, and pregnancy but is instead related somehow to your first attempt at commitment that went totally sour and you simply compensated in the best way your 14-year-old mind could think of.

Personal essays come in all kinds. Some are forms of reportage, such as those by John McPhee or Tracy Kidder, telling the truths about people they've interviewed yet injecting the honesty of the reporter's perception rather than trying to pretend a writer has no slant that skews a story. Other essays deal with decisions made, such as when you finally decide to make a baby and Cheryl leaves her diaphragm out for the first time in 14 years and you laugh as you remember getting sick of her mom asking about grandkids and telling her you both wanted to get really good at sex before doing it for real and now here you are for real and scared if you'll be good enough, and you're not talking just about sex now. Essays can also be speculative: questions about found objects, thoughts about missed opportunities and things that never were, or memories that haunt you such as Lindsey in Washington, D.C., who lived in an all-women's house that banned men and made you stand outside in the snow when you came over to get some banjo books abandoned by a former tenant but something happened and Lindsey moved into your room the weekend you hitched down to North Carolina as bodyguard and companion to her friend Rose and stayed when you got back to hump you two or three times a night until you got so raw you could hardly walk and with no talk or even real emotion of love or commitment to prevent you leaving a month later, but now you remember how there also wasn't any talk of contraception because you'd assumed she took care of it since she was so much older, yet now you jerk awake in the middle of the night years later with the stark realization that a lesbian has no need of IUDs or diaphragms or the pill but she does need something to make a baby of her own and maybe there's a little Stan Junior walking around someplace who is 6 years older now than you were then and you wonder if he's as naive as you suddenly discover you were (probably still are) and the only minuscule iota of relief you can find is that at least you'll never have to give him that man-to-man about the birds and bees. By baring your life, using concrete situations and honest thoughts, and following the basic rules of grammar and composition, you too can write a personal essay in 25 sentences.

From Georgia Review (Fall 1998). From the University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-9009.

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A well written personal essay can inspire and galvanize readers to act (for example to change something in their lives). It can be defined as a nonfiction narrative story in which authors share their personal experiences, incidents, insightful information or lessons learned from finding themselves in a predicament. In order to write a compelling piece, the first step is to understand the personal essay format and its implicit structure. Then, it is best to explore multiple personal essay topics by coming with basic outlines allowing one to examine which one would be the most compelling.


Table Of Contents


Proper Format

Like most academic tasks, the personal essay format can be easily outlined in five-paragraphs. Start with an introductory paragraph. It gives your reader a clear understanding of what the story will be about. Then, catch their attention and motivate them to read the rest of the paper with an awesome title. As you can see learning how to write a personal essay doesn’t have to be a pain when the process is clearly explained.

The following step requires students to include a thesis statement to the introduction and all the points you would like to discuss.

After creating an introduction, you must then formulate three body paragraphs that support your thesis statement. Each new point should contain its own body paragraph. Don’t forget to make transitions from one paragraph to another to make sure that everything flows smoothly.

In the end, it will be essential to wrap everything up and give your audience a sense of completeness by writing a proper conclusion. Restate your thesis, summarize the main points that you have stated in body paragraphs and leave your reader with a specific emotion, depending on the subject of your paper.

Before looking at some prominent personal essay examples let us discover what criteria can be used to select the most suitable topic for oneself.

Personal Essay Topics

If you have got a lot of exciting stories to tell, your personal essay can shine brightly by interactively engaging the reader. Put in a little extra effort and dig deeper to find a unique or interesting experience or an unusual moment in your life.

Looking at a life lesson from another angle can turn into deep and purposeful subject matter for your essay. But, if you decide to pick a topic from a huge list of personal essay topics that you found in the internet, it’s recommended to be precise and careful because not all of them can meet the requirements of your professor.

Personal Narrative Essay Topics

In this type of writing, try to explore a unique experience that created a sense of conflict in your life. Explore how and why you were confused, annoyed, or hurt by the experience. Imagine your piece of paper as a place where you can freely express your emotions and discuss significant moments and reflect their impact on your life. This tip can help you to create a bunch of really good essay topics, but if you need a motivation, you can find some examples below.

  • "One small step that helped me skyrocket in my career!"
  • "Why controlling urges teaches you master self-control."
  • "People only learn from their own mistakes."
  • "Life is not a one-dimensional path: it is curvier than a snake!"
  • "What I learned about conquering my fears."
  • "A moment when you should have made a better choice."

Write about specific emotions

You may also talk about a specific event in your life that left a long-lasting impression on you. Usually, this type of essay acts as a reflection of an incident that took place in your life and shifted it in some way. Dive deeper into your mind and find an event that is unique and personal to you. The weirder the occurrence, the more likely the essay will be engaging to read.

  • "Moment when your life changed forever."
  • "A disappointment you've experienced."
  • "An accident that changed everything."
  • "A near death experience."
  • "Most terrifying thing you've witnessed."
  • "An event that changed your life."

If you have not noticed, each of these titles can bring a fascinating vibe to the table. The names grab your attention, but you can only honestly know what they are about when you start reading them. That is the secret to a provocative title! Check out EssayPro's TOP 25 Personal essay topics to help you get started.

Crafting An Outline

This is one of the most important steps of personal essay writing at any level. Your outline will serve you as a navigator, and you don’t want to get off the track, do you? It will be important to understand how to start a personal essay, what to write in body paragraphs and how to conclude it appropriately.

Introduction

Start your paper with a statement about your story, while at the same time catching the reader’s attention by making use of a hook sentence. It may be a suitable quotation, definition, fact or even an intriguing question. Don’t leave your readers in the dark by explaining the important things such as:

  • Who are the major characters?
  • When and where is it taking place?
  • What kind of story is it?

The great introduction should also have a narrative thesis.
It must be written in one concise sentence that will bring the reader to the starting point of your essay.

Body

It should include supporting evidence for your narrative thesis. Usually, it is presented in the form of your experiences and your reflections on these events. You should also note the passage of time in your body sections, so make sure that the reader is aware of when and how each specific chapter took place.

Conclusion

Naturally, it should include a conclusion to the events and experiences discussed throughout the essay. Students should also come to discover a life lesson by going through the story. It is a moment where you show what you have learned from your experiences or how previous events have changed your life.

Take our piece of advice and write your personal essay in 5 paragraphs. Use one for the introduction, two-three for the body section and one for the conclusion. Doing so allows one to put together a solid outline from the start. Nonetheless, keep in mind that you do not need to be limited to five paragraphs as long as you have all three sections covered in the personal essay.

Personal Essay Writing Process

So now let’s discuss how to write a personal essay. We are going to explore the various stages it involves when applying a step by step format, so just follow our essay writer tips and don’t skip anything.

Start with engaging opening sentence

Open your personal essay with an introductory section that will be engaging and interesting for your reader. In the opening section, introduce the principal characters of the story as well as the central theme or themes. It should also present the fundamental question of the essay.

Write from your unique point of view

You are free to write from your point of view or in your own unique style. In contrast to other types of essay, writing from your perspective or in your personal manner is welcomed.

Take the characters into account

Be sure to describe your characters from all angles. Even though it is your real life experiences, you should still consider storytelling elements like the plot and characters. Using these ingredients in your writing will keep your reader engaged and help your essay flow smoothly.

Shed light on a deep truth

Discuss your background experience with honesty and curiosity. Don’t be afraid to uncover a hidden truth or a truth you didn't know was there at the time. Expose a thing that is uncomfortable or difficult for you to discuss. No matter who will read your essay. Whether it will be a teacher or somebody else, they will definitely appreciate your honesty and strive to share your experience.

Personal Narrative Essay

Writing a personal narrative essay is an easy way to share your (writer’s) personal experience or a story from your life. Writing a good paper will require you to focus on many vivid details and look at them from another angle. You will need to identify crucial points and pay a lot of attention to the information you want to present.

The first line should let the audience know what you will be talking about and your own point of view on the subject. In the body paragraphs, it would be necessary to give the reader a full idea of what happened (personal experience, a particular event, etc.) and how you feel about it. Your story can be told chronologically, or you can just group the facts by importance.

In the end, you will need to wrap everything up and present the main idea of your story, whether it is a lesson that you’ve learned, the impact of a particular experience, etc. Using this type of personal essay format will allow the author to keep their audience in an interactive manner throughout the entire piece.

Writing A Rough Draft & Submitting

After you have completed all the previous steps, it’s time to write a rough draft. Writing a rough draft gives you the opportunity to get some new ideas about what you're writing. Moreover, it’s a great place to polish your essay up and correct small grammar, spelling and other types of mistakes. Get a second pair of eyes: No one can rate your writing as well as a neutral party. As soon as you have checked everything, you can start to write the final paper.

Before submitting your personal essay, double check everything once again and make sure to present the central theme. After it, go through it and proofread your entire piece. It is somewhat frustrating to read an essay full of grammatical mistakes, which can be easily avoided. You can ask your classmate for help, so by that way, you will save each other. Just don't forget to meet the deadline and you're officially finished!

Personal Essay Examples

In our time it’s much more easier to find things on the Internet, and examples are not an exception. Remember one simple thing, not everything that you can find on the Internet is done correctly. If you need some inspiration to get started you can find some personal essay examples below, or you can use our free essay samples to master your skills in any type of writing.


Essay Writing Advice From Our Professional Team

As a writer, I love writing personal stories with different perspectives and approaches as well as unique styles. There are a few tips I can give you for writing these personal pieces of work. My first and foremost tip is that you must use sensory detail and vivid description. My second tip for you is to combine personal experience with universal experiences. This will help you develop a story that is relatable and deep. Another tip that I have for you is that you find your voice and use it; if you’re original in your writing, you will be more memorable to your reader. Another tip is to not be general while you write. When you create a story, you wanna be as specific as possible in your themes and descriptions. Write about something that has meaning to you, but narrow it down to something concrete. My last and probably most important tip is to have fun while writing! Experiment with metaphors and words! Add surprises to your writing. This type of essay is supposed to be fun to write.

Writer Bonnie Lawson, from EssayPro

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Struggling to find the creative juices to complete your personal essay? However, there is no need to worry. Simply contact EssayPro and ask one of our experts to "Help Me Write My Essay".

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