Before we immerse into the peculiarities of a successful personal essay, let us make sure we are on the same page with a personal essay definition. This literary piece allows students so much freedom in terms of what to write about, that it is difficult to define it or provide universal personal essay examples. Generally, there are two components of personal essays: narrative and opinion-based. Obviously, an ideal essay is a skillful combination of both elements.
To put it simply, writing a personal essay is an attempt to share one’s thoughts while also analyzing the implications of these thoughts. Despite quick associations that may appear in your mind, personal essay format is not to be confused with a memoir since the former does not stress the importance of chronology. Thanks to its fragmentary nature, personal essays are an ideal means of expression if the essayist is in the state of transition or confusion since it stimulates profound reflections.
How to Write a Personal Essay - a Simple Guide
Although it is a contradiction in terms, to know what to write, you have to start writing first. Experienced essayists just let it go without knowing where they are going and how the essay will end. Put a few words down and you will slowly start writing your way into the story, gradually discovering what it is you are meaning to tell the world.
Select a Topic
Personal essay topics range from the theme of relationships between people (among family members, friends, sweethearts) or personal experience (childhood memories, travelling, stressful events) to reaction to global issues (such as scientific discoveries, recent policies, life and death). While at first you may think that choosing a good topic is 100% of success, it is not. In fact, if you read a few good personal essay examples, you will notice that the manner in which the writer treats the topic is crucial to the essay quality. Largely, the reason for this is the purpose of this type of papers, which is the process of judging, not the judgment per se. Therefore, be aware of your bias and explain it to the reader, thus transforming your text into an essay with a soul.
Focus on Yourself
Writing an essay of that kind is writing about yourself – the reader wants to learn about your opinion and the reasoning behind it. Your opinion is a combination of your life experience and your character which, in turn, form your writing style. So writing an essay, you are gradually revealing your inner world to the readers. The little moments of your life, like pleasant memories, stressful moments, insights, things that make you happy or sad are the building blocks of your essay. Unlike many other academic papers, personal essays value the pronoun ‘I’, so use it liberally.
What Is a Personal Essay?
It is a reflection. So why do not you allow yourself some time for reflection before you start analyzing? If you do not know how to start a personal essay, linger on the memories and experience you are willing to share and draw on some implications. Do not try to conceal your personal voice or your own writing style. Instead, write as you are. Think about personal essays not only as of a dialogue between a writer and a reader, but as a conversation between a thinker and a thinker. Here is where literary devices, such as irony, humor, and wit come in handy. They make the tone conversational rather than scholarly, automatically turning an essay into an engaging reading. Besides, honest language helps display your individuality and tells the reader who you are.
Master Your Storytelling Skills
As you might have noticed, skillful essayists are good storytellers. They effectively use original literary devices while describing their experience, people, places, and conflicts that add special charm and liveliness to the dialogue between them and their readers. Although some thoughts appear to be random, together, they make up a coherent narrative.
Another cornerstone of a personal essay is intimacy. You discuss the events that happened in your life and that had a certain effect on your personality. Meanwhile, the reader relates this discussion to their own circumstances. This is why generalization is an important personal essay quality.
One more way to keep the reader interested is by voicing something they have been thinking of but never dared to discuss. Alternatively, describe something unique, something your reader could not even imagine.
As an essayist with experience, I can tell you one more secret of successful personal essay writing. It is something textbooks and guides never tell you about. Schoolteachers will explain how many paragraphs are in an essay, what the structural components of an essay are, and how to format it but they will not tell you that the foundation of your essay is sincerity. Without it, other elements will not be effective. Sincerity is displayed through showing vulnerability, true intentions, and understanding. In other words, try to reveal your potential insincerity to the reader. Of course, being sincere is not easy, but this is what your reader appreciates above all.
Teach from the Best
While originality is the ultimate goal of each essayist, finding a good role model (better more than one) is the path to revealing own potential and uniqueness. Luckily, the list of talented essayists is long and can satisfy the curiosity of any aspiring writer. And it is not only about modern essayists, but also about distinguished and well-known writers, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Roland Barthes, Mark Twain, and George Orwell to name just a few.
These are my favorites, and although some of them are associated exclusively with fiction, they all were extremely talented essayist whose literary heritage is worth exploring.
As a young writer, you will frequently receive various pieces of advice, and although all of them have some value, be careful about which of them you choose to follow. For example, many people told me that I had to become fully aware of who I am before I start telling my readers about it. However, this is something I cannot agree with. I think that a person never stops becoming who he or she is, that is the search for oneself is endless. And this is good news because it means constant growth and changes. Deep self-reflection in personal essays makes the exploration of oneself more meaningful.