Everyone has a story to tell. It may not be exciting or popular, but you do have one–and it’s unique to you. Personal essays are usually about an interesting moment in your life that taught you something about yourself – whether it was the time when your grandmother said she loved you or when you decided to quit your job in search of new adventures.
These stories are important because they can help us relate to one another and understand ourselves better.
Writing a good personal essay takes time. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it in the end when you get that acceptance letter or publish your work for the world to see. Here are some great writing tips to keep in mind when penning your next personal essay:
1. Don’t force yourself to think of something crazy
Everyone has crazy moments in their lives – too many, some might say. If you’re having trouble thinking of an idea, don’t stress about it! A lot of times, life’s little moments are actually what tells our story best. Maybe your grandmother taught you how to bake cookies by hand instead of with a mixer. Perhaps you learned the power of saying no when your friend asks you to go get ice cream at two in the morning. These are the experiences that create good personal essays, not just an adventurous childhood or a traumatic experience.
2. Tell us something we don’t know about you
We all have little habits that other people might think are strange, but it’s these quirks that make us who we are! If your essay is exactly like everyone else’s, there’s no reason for anyone to be interested in reading it. Think back on some things about yourself (i.e., what you like to do for fun or what kind of food makes you happy) and turn these opinions into anecdotes that show off your personality. By doing this, you’re helping the reader learn more about you and connect to your story.
3. Be aware of what’s going on around you
You don’t have to be a writer to live a good life. Writing is all about realizing those moments that make an impact so you can later share them with others. If something interesting or funny happens to you during the day, try writing it down as soon as possible. These moments seem small at first, but they could grow into the next great personal essay idea – and sometimes they do! This way, when there isn’t anything else major going on in your life (meaning: no natural disasters or family tragedies), you’ll still have plenty of material to work with for future drafts.
4. Don’t hold anything back
Your readers are interested in learning about you, so go ahead and get personal! Sometimes, the hardest part of writing a good essay is getting started because it can feel uncomfortable to write about private things for strangers to read. Remember that nobody knows who you are, so there’s no need to be ashamed. You’re not embarrassing yourself or your family – this is just your story! Also, don’t be afraid to show off in your writing. If you did something cool or interesting, make sure your voice comes through in the tone of your essay (if it doesn’t already). Be proud of what you’ve done after all, otherwise, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning in an essay at all!
5. Edit, edit, edit!
As I mentioned before, writing is a process. It can be time-consuming and frustrating but it’s always worth the effort in the end. Not only will this help your essay convey its message, but practice makes perfect! You might even start to enjoy writing after a while if you do it often enough. That being said, it’s important to remember that nobody is a natural writer. With time and lots of editing, however, you can turn yourself into an expert on paper (or on the computer screen).
6. Get feedback from others
It’s hard to look at your own writing objectively, so don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it! A lot of times, friends and family will be more than willing to help you out just because they know they can improve their own writing skills by helping you. Have your best friend read over what you’ve written before sending it in. If she/he finds any mistakes or sees things that seem off, ask her/him why. Maybe she/he has some great suggestions, too! Try not to take criticism personally – everyone needs a little feedback now and then. Without constructive criticism, you’ll never learn how to improve so don’t brush others’ ideas off without giving them a second thought.
7. Make sure the reader learns something new about themselves
It might sound like philosophy (and maybe it is!) but the point of learning about other people is that we can apply these lessons to ourselves. This means that, if your reader doesn’t understand what you’re trying to say or connect with your story, then there’s no point in writing it at all. Be aware of the emotions and responses you want the reader to feel by the end of your essay. Are you giving them advice? Are you making them sad or happy? By knowing this, you can determine whether or not something feels off and tweak it accordingly.
8. Don’t compare yourself to others
You don’t need a Pulitzer Prize for personal essays (and even if you did win one, they wouldn’t just hand it over). It’s important to focus on yourself as much as possible instead of worrying about how well other people write their stories. It’s a lot more productive to think about how you can improve your own writing instead of being jealous of someone else’s talents. If you have an amazing editor or friend who can help, even better! However, it doesn’t matter if they’re the best writer ever – everyone has their flaws, so try not to compare yourself to others too much.
9. Find inspiration!
Although there are plenty of different personal essay topics out there, don’t feel limited by these. There is a whole world waiting for you to explore! Think about what inspires you and go from there. It helps if you write things that excite and engage you on a daily basis because then it will be easier to put those feelings into words. You might even find yourself in a brand new story or situation if you keep an open mind about what’s possible. Life is unpredictable, so why shouldn’t your writing be?
10. Don’t worry!
You’ve got this! Writing can be hard work, but it’s also really fun when you get into it. If you’re not sure where to start try jotting down the first three things that pop into your head – they don’t have to make sense just yet! You’ll probably find that the words flow easier after that initial brainstorming session. And remember, even though this isn’t your typical high school assignment, grades aren’t everything. It takes time and practice for anyone to become good at something so keep up the hard work and know that you’ll get there eventually. You might even surprise yourself with how great your work is!