Using The Personal Essay As A Writing Exercise

A personal essay is a short piece of autobiographical writing. It’s nonfiction, but you can use it to practice writing fiction. Tell a story about yourself in an essay. I won’t pretend it will be easy. It likely won’t be. That’s the point. Don’t worry if you think that whatever you write is too personal, you don’t have to share it with anyone.

One of the hardest parts of the piece is choosing the topic. I wrote one I will share next week on a weekend trip I took with my sister, niece, and five dogs. I’ll let you judge the result. Suffice to say, things didn’t go well. That’s the gist of this idea. You take a slice of your own life and write it down in an interesting manner.

As with fiction, your personal essay should have a biginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning should have a hook, something to pull a reader in. The reader needs to want to read it. That’s the purpose of the hook. You need to entice them to read the piece. Once you have them interested, then  you need to keep them engaged. I’m sure that sounds familiar. You may or may not have a twist for the end, but you should try to make the ending as strong as the beginning so the reader doesn’t feel cheated. A reader who feels cheated will never read your work again.

The middle needs to be rich in detail as well. Just as your fiction needs a robust middle, so does your personal essay. You need to keep it on point, add in a little conflict to move the story along. This is why the personal essay is a perfect way to practice pacing. You already have the characters and the basic plot. All you need do is describe the action in a way that hooks your reader, keeps him or her engaged, then ends the story in a satisfactory manner.

So think of a topic that’s informative, funny, or expresses some sort of strong emotion and write it up as though it was a short story. I’d recommend a thousand or so words, or a little shorter, but for the most part, a thousand to two thousand words is best. If you would like, write an outline. Then write the piece. Whether you are going for pathos, humor, or education, be consistent. Don’t switch from humor to pathos to educational and back again. That’s a good way to fail at holding your reader. Pick a good topic from your life and run with it.

Personal essays can be therapeutic as well. As I mentioned, you don’t have to share the piece with anyone else. You can just pretend you are writing the story, or that you are telling someone the story. Use all the tools in your writer’s toolbox and have at it. If your normal writing process doesn’t use an outline, try using one. Or don’t use one if you do outline. Experiment with styles. You might find that you enjoy it.

About

I am not one who is comfortable talking about myself but here goes. I enjoy writing, family history, and reading. I decided to do this blog because I wanted to try something new. I decided to make it a weekly blog because I wasn't sure that I could keep up with a daily one, and monthly seemed like I was writing a magazine. I think I did ok with my choices. You'll notice that there are not a lot of graphics on my site. That's because there are graphics plastered everywhere on the Internet and those sites sometimes take forever to load. This blog is a place where you can kick back, relax and be ready to be amused. At least I hope I willbamuse you. This blog is on a variety of subjects from my ficitional cat agency, the FFL, which is monthly, to instructional blogs to editorials, which are my opinions only. I admit that I don't know everything and could be wrong -- I frequently am. Now, stop reading about me and read what I have to say!

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Posted in General Opinion, Writing Techniques

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© Lisa Hendrickson and Pebblepup's Writing Den, 2010-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lisa Hendrickson and Pebblepup's Writing Den with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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