What Is a Personal Essay (Personal Statement)?
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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." ("To Fashion a Text," 1998) .
Examples of Personal Essays
- An Apology for Idlers , by Robert Louis Stevenson
- On Laziness , by Christopher Morley
- Coney Island at Night, by James Huneker
- New Year's Eve , by Charles Lamb
- How It Feels to Be Colored Me , by Zora Neale Hurston
- My Wood, by E.M. Forster
- Two Ways of Seeing a River , by Mark Twain
- What I Think and Feel at 25, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The personal essay is one of the most common types of writing assignment--and not only in freshman composition courses. Many employers, as well as graduate and professional schools, will ask you to submit a personal essay (sometimes called a personal statement ) before even considering you for an interview. Being able to compose a coherent version of yourself in words is clearly an important skill.
- What qualities does a personal essay reveal about you? Here are just a few:
- Communication Skills How effective are your communication skills? Do you write clearly, concisely, and correctly? Note that many employers put communication skills at the top of the list of essential qualifications.
- Critical Thinking Skills How fresh and imaginative are you in your thinking? Is your writing cluttered with cliches , or is it obvious that you have original ideas to contribute?
- Maturity What specific lessons have you learned from experience, and are you ready to apply those lessons to the job or the academic program you're considering? Keep in mind that it's not enough to be able to recount a personal experience; you should be prepared to interpret it as well.
- Self and Subject in Personal Essays "[W]here the familiar essay is characterized by its everyday subject matter, the personal essay is defined more by the personality of its writer, which takes precedence over the subject. On the other hand, the personal essayist does not place himself firmly in center stage, as does the autobiographical essayist; the autobiographical element of the personal essay is far less calculated..."
- The Essayist's Persona "Personal essayists from Montaigne on have been fascinated with the changeableness and plasticity of the materials of human personality. Starting with self-description, they have realized they can never render all at once the entire complexity of a personality. So they have elected to follow an additive strategy, offering incomplete shards, one mask or persona after another: the eager, skeptical, amiable, tender, curmudgeonly, antic, somber. If 'we must remove the mask,' it is only to substitute another mask..."
- The "Antigenre": An Alternative to Academic Prose "[T]he more personal essay offers an escape from the confines of academic prose . By using this antigenre form that in contemporary essays embodies multiple kinds of writing, many essayists in search of democracy find a freedom for expressing in their writings spontaneity, self-reflexivity, accessibility, and a rhetoric of sincerity."
- Teaching the Personal Essay "Given the opportunity to speak their own authority as writers, given a turn in the conversation, students can claim their stories as primary source material and transform their experiences into evidence ..."
- Essay Forms "Despite the anthologists' custom of presenting essays as 'models of organization ,' it is the loose structure or apparent shapelessness of the essay that is often stressed in standard definitions. . . . Samuel Johnson famously defined the essay as 'an irregular, indigested piece, not a regular and orderly performance.' And certainly, a number of essayists (Hazlitt and Emerson, for instance, after the fashion of Montaigne) are readily identifiable by the wayward or fragmentary nature of their explorations. Yet each of these writers observes certain distinctive organizing (or disorganizing) principles of his own, thus charting the ramble and shaping the form. As Jeanette Harris observes in Expressive Discourse , 'Even in the case of a personal essay , which may appear informal and loosely structured, the writer has crafted with care this very appearance of informality' (122).
Theresa Werner, "Personal Essay." Encyclopedia of the Essay , ed. by Tracy Chevalier. Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997
E.B. White , Foreword to Essays of E.B. White . Harper and Row, 1977
Cristina Kirklighter, Traversing the Democratic Borders of the Essay . SUNY Press, 2002
Nancy Sommers, "Between the Drafts." College Composition and Communication , February 1992
Richard F. Nordquist, "Voices of the Modern Essay." Dissertation University of Georgia, 1991
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7 Helpful Tips on How to Write A Memorable Personal Essay
Everyone has a story to tell and a message to share. The challenge lies in getting that story and message out of your head and into print in a way that resonates with your audience.
Starting somewhere in the late 2000s, a certain type of personal essay experienced a popularity boom. These essays were ultra-personal and confessional in nature, often in a TMI sort of way. Their headlines were clickable, not to mention shareable, for their shock value alone.
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Although the confessional shock essay’s star seems to be fading, the personal essay itself is still standing strong. Essay collections by late greats like James Baldwin ( The Fire Next Time ) and David Foster Wallace ( Consider the Lobster ) still top Amazon’s Best Sellers in essays. Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) launched a career with her darkly funny and self-effacing essays about her health and mental illness challenges ( Let’s Pretend This Never Happened ). Celebrities like Mindy Kaling ( Why Not Me? ) and Tina Fey ( Bossypants ) blended personal essays into memoir-esque collections that became best sellers. We head for the nearest bookseller when essay titans like David Sedaris or Anne Lamott have a new release.
We’re looking for real stories and musings from people who are able to share their foibles, lessons, and truths in a way we can relate to. Here are seven tips to help you craft a personal essay that will connect with readers.
1 Understand what a personal essay is
Ask three different experts what a personal essay is and you’ll likely get three different answers. Are they structured? Must they address a certain type of subject? Here’s a definition we like:
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.’
Personal essays relate the author’s intimate thoughts and experiences to universal truths. They aren’t simply a retelling of events, though—that falls more in the realm of memoir or autobiography. They conclude with the author having learned, changed, or grown in some way and often present some truth or insight that challenges the reader to draw their own conclusions.
2 Find a compelling topic
The best essay topics are often deeply relatable. Although the story itself is unique to the author’s experience, there’s some universal truth that speaks to us from just below the surface. Topics like facing a fear, falling in love, overcoming an obstacle, discovering something new, or making a difficult choice tackle feelings and events that happen in everyone’s life.
3 Start with a strong hook
As with any type of writing, it’s essential to draw the reader in from the very first paragraph , or even the first sentence. Here are a few examples.
Aside from Peter, who supposedly guards the gates of heaven and is a pivotal figure in any number of jokes, the only saint who’s ever remotely interested me is Francis of Assisi, who was friends with the animals.
When I was young, my family didn’t go on outings to the circus or trips to Disneyland. We couldn’t afford them. Instead, we stayed in our small rural West Texas town, and my parents took us to cemeteries.
I underwent, during the summer that I became fourteen, a prolonged religious crisis.
Alone, we are doomed. By the same token, we’ve learned that people are impossible, even the ones we love most— especially the ones we love most.
Your hook and opening paragraph should establish the topic of your essay (or at least allude to it) and set the scene and tone.
4 Create an outline
All it takes to understand the importance of an outline is listening to someone who struggled to tell a personal story. Often, the story will seem to have no real point. The switchbacks where the teller says “But wait, I have to tell you about this part, first!” are maddening and disruptive. An outline will help you organize your thoughts before committing them to text.
Consider your opening hook and the statement it makes, then map out the sequence of events or main points that support it. Just like a good fictional story, your essay should have rising action. Raise the stakes with each paragraph until you reach a climax or turning point. Plan to add a conclusion that will evoke an emotional response in your reader.
5 Narrow your focus
Don’t try to write to a general topic. Your essay may well be about sexism, but you need to illustrate it through the lens of a defining incident that’s deeply personal to you. What did your experiences teach you about sexism? What does it mean to you as an individual?
6 Show, don’t tell
Close your eyes. Think of the scene you’re about to write down. What were you experiencing with your five senses? How did you feel?
Your challenge is to evoke those senses and feelings without flatly stating them. Don’t say “I felt cold.” Say “I exhaled and my breath turned to vapor that hung in the air. I shivered and pulled the blanket tight around my shoulders in a vain attempt to trap my body heat.” Your description should help the reader experience the cold with you. Stephen King describes it as making the reader “prickle with recognition.”
7 Craft a thought-provoking conclusion
Your essay should end with your own reflection and analysis. What did you learn? How have the events and thoughts you described changed your life or your understanding of life? It’s not enough to say “And that’s what happened.” You have to describe how whatever happened shaped you.
Just as a good lead hooks readers and draws them along for the ride, a good conclusion releases them from your essay’s thrall with a frisson of pleasure, agreement, passion or some other sense of completion. Circling back to your lead in your conclusion is one way to give readers that full-circle sense. Try to restate your thesis in a way that reflects the journey the essay has taken.
There is so much outside the false cloister of private experience; and when you write, you do the work of connecting that terrible privacy to everything beyond it.
Content Writing What is a Personal Essay? Useful Essay Writing Tips with Examples
- 1) What is a personal essay?
- 2) What is a Personal Narrative Essay?
- 3) How to Structure a Personal Essay?
- 4.1) Choose a topic
- 4.2) Use personal stories
- 4.3) Be honest:
- 4.4) Use vivid language:
- 4.5) Stay focused:
- 4.6) Show, don’t tell:
- 4.7) Use a strong thesis statement:
- 4.8) Read your essay aloud:
- 4.9) Use transitions:
- 4.10) Get feedback:
- 4.11) Edit and revise
- 4.12) How to Conclude a Personal Essay?
- 5.1.1) Show growth and learning:
- 5.1.2) Take risks:
- 5.1.3) Be reflective:
- 5.2.1) Overshare:
- 5.2.2) Be too general:
- 5.2.3) Focus solely on the negative:
- 6) How to Improve Your Personal Essay Writing Using an AI Writer?
- 7) Conclusion
A personal essay allows you to share your experiences and perspective with readers. If you are wondering what is a personal essay, then this blog is all you need. This blog will tell you all you need to know about personal essays.
What is a personal essay?
A personal essay is a creative piece of writing. Unlike common essays, a personal essay delves deep into the author’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences. It is a captivating writing genre where writers can express themselves and connect with readers personally. According to a personal essay definition, it is a form of creative writing and self-expression.
When writing your essay, choose topics that resonate with you. This could be anything from a life-changing event to a small, insignificant moment that impacted you in a significant way. Your personal experiences are the fuel that powers your narrative, giving it the emotional depth and authenticity that readers crave.
What is a Personal Narrative Essay?
A personal narrative essay is a type of personal essay that focuses on storytelling . It allows you to take readers on a journey, inviting them into your world and showing them your perspective. A narrative essay can be funny, heartwarming, sad, or anything in between.
How to Structure a Personal Essay?
A personal essay should have three main sections: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.
Start your essay with an attention-grabbing introduction. An intro paragraph is where you introduce your topic and set the tone for the rest of your essay. You can draw the reader’s attention by sharing a personal anecdote or a thought-provoking quote.
The body of your essay is where you’ll tell your story. This is where you’ll share the details of your experience, using vivid language and sensory details to paint a picture for your readers. Stay focused on your topic and avoid going off the discussion.
Your conclusion should wrap up your essay and leave readers with a sense of closure. This is where you’ll reflect on what you’ve learned from your experience and offer any final thoughts or insights. You might end with a call to action or a question to encourage further reflection.
Tips on How to Write a Good Personal Essay
Here are some helpful tips for effectively writing a personal essay:
Choose a topic
Choose a meaningful topic. You can pick a personal experience, a life-changing event, or a challenge you’ve overcome. Choose a topic you are passionate about and willing to share it with others.
Use personal stories
A personal essay is all about sharing your personal stories, so don’t be afraid to get vulnerable. Share your thoughts, feelings, and emotions as honestly as possible, and use specific examples to illustrate your points. Personal stories connect readers with your experience on a deeper level, making your essay more engaging and memorable.
A personal essay is about sharing your experiences and emotions with your readers. Be honest and open about your thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Honesty will connect your readers with your essay on a personal level.
Use vivid language:
Use descriptive language and sensory details to paint a picture for your readers. This will help them visualize your experiences and make your essay more engaging and memorable.
Stick to your topic and avoid going off on tangents. It can be tempting to include every detail of your experience, but try to focus on the most important moments and emotions.
Show, don’t tell:
Instead of simply telling your readers how you felt, show them through your actions and reactions. Use examples and anecdotes to illustrate your points and bring your experiences to life.
Use a strong thesis statement:
Your thesis statement should clearly state your essay’s main point. It should tell readers what to expect from your essay. Write a specific, to-the-point and concise thesis statement.
Read your essay aloud:
Read your essay aloud to catch errors and awkward phrasing. Reading aloud helps you better understand how your essay reads.
Use transitions to help your essay flow smoothly from one section to the next. Common examples of transition phrases are “in addition,” “however,” or “on the other hand.”
Consider sharing your essay with a trusted friend, family member, or writing group. Getting feedback can help you identify areas that need improvement and make your essay stronger.
Edit and revise
Read through your essay several times. Check for typos, grammatical errors, and awkward phrasing. Ensure your essay flows smoothly and each section is connected with the previous one. You might also ask a trusted friend or family member to read your essay and offer feedback.
How to Conclude a Personal Essay?
Your conclusion should be strong and memorable, leaving a lasting impression on your readers. Consider ending your essay with a powerful quote or thought-provoking question, or tying your conclusion back to the themes you introduced in your blog introduction . Whatever you do, make sure your conclusion feels satisfying and brings your essay to a satisfying close.
What is a Personal Essay Dos and Don’ts?
Show growth and learning: .
If your essay is about a challenging experience you went through, make sure to show how you grew and learned from it. This will make your essay more impactful and inspiring.
Writing a essay requires vulnerability, so don’t be afraid to take risks and share something that feels uncomfortable or difficult. This is often what makes for the most powerful and memorable personal essays.
Reflect on your experiences and tell your readers how these experiences have impacted you. In this way, you can craft a thoughtful and meaningful essay.
While honesty is important, make sure you’re not oversharing or revealing too much personal information. Keep your audience and your own comfort level in mind when deciding what to share.
Be too general:
While it’s important to reflect on your experiences and what they mean to you, avoid being too general or vague. Use specific examples and details to make your essay more impactful.
Focus solely on the negative:
If your essay is about a challenging experience, make sure to show how you grew and learned from it, rather than dwelling solely on the negative aspects.
How to Improve Your Personal Essay Writing Using an AI Writer?
An AI writer is an incredibly useful tool for essay writing. An AI content generator lets you easily brainstorm blog ideas and generate personal essay prompts. Once you have your topic, an AI writer can help you create a essay outline, organizing your main points and supporting details. And if you’re looking to turn your personal essay into a blog post, an AI blog writer can help you with formatting, search engine optimization, and even suggest images to include.
A personal essay is a powerful self-expression form. It allows writers to explore their personal experiences and share their unique perspectives. Whether you’re writing a personal narrative essay or a more traditional essay, the key is to choose meaningful topics and write passionately. So take the plunge, and start writing your personal essay today!
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What is a Personal Essay?
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“For more than four hundred years, the personal essay has been one of the richest and most vibrant of all literary forms.” (The Art of the Personal Essay by Phillip Lopate.) The personal essay is also one of the most popular forms of creative nonfiction. A personal essay can be based on a personal experience that results in a lesson that you learn. A personal essay can also be a personal opinion about a topic or issue that is important to you. This article defines the personal essay.
Personal Essay versus a Formal Essay
The personal essay is different than a formal essay. In the personal essay, the writer writes about experience without having to prove the point. The author needs only to introduce the subject and theme. It is based on feeling, emotion, personal opinion, and personal experience. It is autobiographical. On the other hand, in the formal essay, the writer states the thesis, and then attempts to prove or support his point with facts—to provide proof. To do this, the author must do research.
Definition of the Personal Essay
A personal essay is either a personal narrative in which the author writes about a personal incident or experience that provided significant personal meaning or a lesson learned, or it is a personal opinion about some topic or issue that is important to the writer.
The Personal Essay as a Personal Narrative
A personal narrative has the following elements:
- It is based on a personal experience in which you have gained significant meaning, insight, or learned a lesson. It can also be based on a milestone or life-altering event.
- It is personal narrative. The writer tells the story by including dialogue, imagery, characterization, conflict, plot, and setting.
- It is written in the first person. (“I” point-of-view)
- It is an autobiographical story in which the writer describes an incident that resulted in some personal growth or development.
- A personal essay is a glimpse of the writer’s life. The writer describes the personal experience using the scene-building technique, weaves a theme throughout the narrative, and makes an important point. There must be a lesson or meaning. The writer cannot just write an interesting story.
- It does not have to be objective. However, the writer must express his/her feelings, thoughts, and emotions.
- The writer uses self-disclosure and is honest with his/her readers.
- The writer writes about a real life experience. The incident or experience must have occurred. The writer must use fact and truth.
- The writer must dramatize the story by using the scene building technique. A scene includes setting/location, intimate details, concrete and specific descriptions, action, and often dialogue.
The Personal Essay as a Personal Opinion
A personal essay can also be an opinion piece, an opinion that is based on a particular political or social concern or topic of interest. In this type of personal essay, the writer can states the problem, provide solutions, and then write a conclusion—which must state an important point. Whatever the writer discusses, the topic is of interest to the writer. The writer frequently seeks to explain the truth or reality has he/she views it. Sometimes the writer ponders a question. Other times the writer explores a topic from his own perspective. The writer must not lecture, sermonize, or moralize. In other words, the writer must present his/her opinion in such a way that allows the readers decide for themselves.
In Writing Life Stories, author Bill Roorbach provides an excellent definition of the personal essay, one that is based on a personal opinion. He states that the personal essay that is based on a personal opinion has these attributes:
- A personal essay is a conversation with your readers.
- The personal essay is an informed mixture of storytelling, facts, wisdom, and personality.
- The personal essay examines a subject outside of yourself, but through the lens of self.
- The subject of the personal essay may be the self, but the self is treated as evidence for the argument.
- Passages of narrative often appear but generally get used as evidence in the inductive argument.
- The personal essay strives to say what is evident, and to come to a conclusion that the reader may agree or disagree.
- A personal essay can wonder through its subject, circle around it, get the long view and the short, always providing experience, knowledge, book learning, and personal history.
It should also be noted that a personal essay doesn’t need to be objective. It can be purely subjective. You don’t have to prove a point or show both sides of the argument. But you must express your own personal feelings, thoughts, and opinions on a topic or issue in a logical manner.
Subjects for the Personal Essay
Your subject can be about anything that you are passionate about. You can write about a “turning point” in your life, or a milestone, or adversity, such as death, illness, divorce. The subject you choose must have provided you with significant personal meaning or a lesson that you have learned. But, keep in mind, you are not just reflecting or remembering, you are going to make a point, some universal truth that your readers can appreciate. Otherwise, your story is just a story. So, write about the following:
- Personal experience
Your subject can also be a personal opinion on an issue or concern that is important to you, such as the garbage strike, crime, or unemployment.
How to Choose a Topic
Choose a topic in are interested in and passionate about, and that resulted in a lesson that you learned or personal meaning. Here is how:
- Your writing needs to be a process of inquiry. So answer the 5-Ws: Who? What? When? Where? Why?
- Brainstorm your topic. Create a list of topics. Then create subtopics.
- Mind map your topic. For more information on mindmapping, search the Internet. This is a popular form of creative thinking.
- Narrow your topic. Instead of writing about global warming, you can narrow your topic by writing about “going green” or “how you should recycle in your home”.
- Think of a milestone, or something memorable, or a turning point in your life. What were your impressions? What did you learn? What meaning came from the personal experience?
- Be sure that your topic has a universal theme—such as hard work, love, death, bravery, wisdom.
- Your goal is to make others laugh, learn, hope, empathize, sympathize with what you have written. Your readers must be able to identify with what you have written.
- If something happened to you that was interesting, humorous, sad, and so forth, you can write about it.
- Write about personal experiences that have taught you a lesson.
Make the Most of Life Experiences
- Include your opinions, point of view, feelings and thoughts.
- Be truthful and honest. In other words, state the facts and evidence.
Resources for Writing Personal Essays
There are some fantastic books available to help you learn to write a personal essay. Here are the books I recommend:
- Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories into Memoir, Ideas into Essays, and Life into Literature by Bill Roorbach
- Writing Creative Nonfiction, edited by Philip Gerard
- The Art of Creative Nonfiction by Lee Gutkind
- The Art of the Personal Essay by Phillip Lapote
The personal essay has loose structure and conversational tone. It is usually written in the first person. The writer uses self-disclosure, honesty, and truth. The writer can write about any subject, topic, or personal experience. But the personal essay must have a universal theme and conclude with a major point. Otherwise, the reader says, “So what?” It was a nice story, but so what is the point?
In the next post, I will explain how to structure/organize your personal essay and what to include.
Tags: Creative Nonfiction , Creative Writing , Personal Essay , personal narrative , personal opinion , Resources , The Art of Creative Nonfiction , The Art of the Personal Essay
Wow this was a really good article. It was informative and quick. Thank you!
[…] Source: What is a Personal Essay? May 2, 2010 by Find Your Creative Muse […]
I like the way how you choose your words, it gives more interests to the reader.
[…] nonfiction or personal essays. From the blog Find Your Creative Muse, here’s a good article clearly defining the personal essay and one explaining the creative nonfiction genre. The personal essay centers around self, creative […]
[…] If you’d like to read more about the different types of essays and the elements that should be present, this is a really good post: https://davehood59.wordpress.com/2010/05/02/what-is-a-personal-essay/ […]
Thank u so much for ths article..it hlpd me a lot:-)
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Example sentences personal essay
The wisdom of her insight into human vanity did not always carry over into her memoirs and personal essay writing, where she could come across as thin-skinned, snobbish and defensive.
The book veers - at times somewhat troublingly - between memoir and fiction, capitalizing, no doubt on the renaissance of the personal essay genre, born out of blogging and online self-publishing.
In its objectivity, a survey article may lie somewhere between a personal essay , and an encyclopedia article.
The final section, full of explicitly personal essays, therefore comes as a relief: her best ones move in a widening direction.
This was not an overview, as suggested by the title, but a series of commissioned personal essays from eminent types exploring one aspect of a particular year.
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Definition of 'personal' personal
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- personal exemption
- personal expenses
- All ENGLISH words that begin with 'P'
Quick word challenge
Score: 0 / 5