GUEST POST: WRITING MEANINGFUL PERSONAL ESSAYS
Sara Hodon’s work has appeared in History, Harrisburg Magazine, Young Money, and WritersWeekly.com. She is also a weekly columnist for Online Dating Magazine. Visit her blog at http://adventuresinthewritinglife.blogspot.com.
All writers infuse their work with a little of their own personality and voice, no matter the genre. But few genres allow a writer more freedom to express themselves and connect with readers than the personal essay.
A well-crafted essay about an experience from your life can strike a chord with readers, whether it’s a humorous or sad incident. We all have those memories of disastrous family vacations, awkward high school experiences, or people who have made a lasting impact on our lives.
Journals can be a helpful tool to write a meaningful essay. I know that when I go back and read my old journals, I’m almost instantly sent back in time to a particular event or period of my life. Even if the words on the page don’t tell the whole story, I can remember what was going through my mind at the time that I wrote them. That helps me to fill in the details or portray a certain tone for the essay.
Even though the goal for most writers is to get our work published so we can share it with our readers, it’s not easy to put ourselves out there and divulge so much personal information. Let’s be honest—writers have fragile egos, no matter how thick a skin we develop after endless rejections from editors or publishers. We accept rejection as part of the process, but that doesn’t mean it gets easier to swallow! Besides just putting ourselves on the page, writing essays often means writing about those closest to us—family, current or estranged friends, and current or former loves—and hoping our words don’t cause hard feelings.
One of the most important things to remember about writing personal essays is that you’re telling the story as you remember it. You may be writing about your family’s fiasco of a family vacation to the Grand Canyon when you were 10, and no doubt every member of your family will remember that vacation differently. So be it—the essay is your memory. If so many things on that vacation went wrong, it could be perfect material for a humorous piece that would make even your well-meaning but hapless dad chuckle. Just like most writing, it’s all in your approach.
A personal essay is an important way to develop your own voice and confidence as a writer. Not sure how to get started? Go back and read those old diaries and journals and see if anything triggers a strong memory. Then, get writing. You may not become the next David Sedaris or Sloane Crosley, but you just may be able to craft a piece that makes your readers shake their heads or chuckle in knowing sympathy. Their dad was well-meaning but hapless, too.
This post first appeared in my former blog: The Writer Today