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Tips for Writing a Killer Personal Essay

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While it’s important to learn what a personal essay is and what it should include, the main ingredient is, of course, your writing. You have to write the personal essay or else it will stay stuck in your mind forever, but such is the nature with ideas and writing.

Yes, writing is the main ingredient when trying to become a writer, but how can I actually write a personal essay?


First things first, what is a personal essay?

If you ask five different people what a personal essay is, you’ll likely receive five different answers.

ThoughtCo says it best when explaining what a personal essay is:

“A personal essay is a short work of autobiographical nonfiction characterized by a sense of intimacy and a conversational manner. Also called a personal statement.

A type of creative nonfiction, the personal essay is “all over the map,” according to Annie Dillard. “There’s nothing you can’t do with it. No subject matter is forbidden, no structure is prescribed. You get to make up your own form every time.””

Not that you have a better idea of what a personal essay is, here are three tips for writing a killer personal essay.

Find a compelling topic that’s close to your heart

All stories need a good beginning, middle, and end, and personal essays are no exception, but many successful personal essays are compelling and close to the heart. Your story might not be unique, because other people are dealing with the same problems, but it means a great deal to you. Not to mention, with your powerful prose, you create a story that strikes a chord with many people.

A personal essay can be on any given topic and the writer’s abilities will lead to it be compelling or not, but writing about a topic that’s close to your heart can lead to it being personal, relatable, and a great read.

Be personal and universal

Good personal essays aren’t simply a rant, although that can work. They are personal to you but are also universal. When people read a good essay, they might even think … “OMG, that’s me,” even if the writer is using his or her own life experiences.

The good thing about personal and universal topics? They can be about anything, from heartbreak and loss, to relationships, to personal finances, to making a sandwich.

Writing about a universal topic (something that many different people can relate to) is a good way to reach a crowd with your personal essay.

Take the time to edit your story

This might sound like a no-brainer to some writers, but the first draft reads completely different from a final draft. In fact, when you’re reading your favorite author or essayist, you’re reading his or her final draft. It took this person many nights and revisions to get to that point.

Therefore, don’t get discouraged with your first draft. Be proud of yourself for finishing and then take the time to edit and make your personal essay better. That’s what writing is all about: Finishing a draft and revising it.

While some will claim the personal essay boom is over, there’s a reason why you can buy an essay or collection of essays at your local bookstore and why these types of books continue to get published — they make for great stories that are relatable and spread a message. Not to mention, you can still pitch plenty of large publications on essay ideas.

No matter what the topic is or how personal you get, you have to put in the work. You can do all the reading and learn all the tips, but you still have to put pen to paper. You still have to write.

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