The personal essay – a great place to start writing

Writing a memoir or family story is a great way to preserve your unique and special history for future generations. But what if the prospect of tackling such a big project seems too daunting?


I recommend you start small – and write a personal essay (short form autobiographical non-fiction) instead. This is a great way to work your writing ‘muscle’ and practice writing about an event close to you or your family, without thinking too much about the bigger picture.


So just what is a personal essay?


A personal essay captures a ‘slice of life’ moment, an event or experience that affected your life, or took you on an emotional journey. Share your thoughts and experience on the page, and show how you have changed or grown as a result. There are no rules when it comes to writing a personal essay, which makes it a fantastic place to start. You simply create your story in whatever form you choose


Our lives contain a myriad of experiences from which to find a compelling topic.


Ask yourself these questions if you’re having trouble generating some ideas:


What are the major life events that have changed my (or my family member’s) life?


What struggles or challenges have I overcome?


How has an event or experience changed my perspective about something?


What is something miraculous that has happened to me?


How could my experience inspire or help others?


See if you can come up with four or five answers for each of these questions, then pick one to write about!


The writing bit

A conversational, intimate tone is best. If you struggle to get started, or find your voice, I recommend speaking your story into your smartphone recorder, rather than writing it down first. Imagine you are telling the story to a friend over coffee. Then translate your story on to the page, and you’ll be amazed how far along you are!


Here are a few other tips to think about when writing:


Start with a compelling first sentence or paragraph – you want to hook the reader straight into the story.


Stick to one event or experience – have a narrow rather than wide focus.


Follow the tried and true rule – show and don’t tell!


Try to ratchet up the tension in the story as it goes along – don’t give everything away in the first few paragraphs.


As you wrap up the story, reflect on the lessons learned, or changes to your life or understanding of it. Try to leave the reader with an emotional response to your story.


I hope you find these tips for writing a personal essay helpful, and if you would like some feedback, feel free to email me your completed piece.

Jo x