How to Write a Personal Essay

Updated July 12, 2018

Unless you are writing for college admissions, a great personal essay has very few restrictions. It is a way to get your thoughts about an incident or idea on paper, and it can be therapeutic and enjoyable. Here are some guidelines that will help you get started and keep you on track.

Pick one distinct incident to write about. If it is linked to one or two others, you can include these, but don't wander in thought or direction.

Include dialogue and scene descriptions in your essay. Though describing a person is effective, you can often tell more about someone's character by their words. Most people think essays have to be exposition only--and that would be boring. You have leeway to entertain the reader as you write.

Be clear and concise in your writing. You can let your personality come across, but if you are a wanderer in thought by nature, try to keep it to a minimum in your story telling.

Tell the truth in your personal essay. Give the complete story, even if you aren't the hero/heroine. Always write the good, the bad AND the ugly. A reader will be endeared to you for being honest.

Proofread and edit the story after a few days. Once you have written the essay, walk away from it. This will give you distance and a better perspective to come back and revise the piece.

Have fun with your personal essay. If you are funny, be funny. If not, maybe you shouldn't try. If you're serious, be serious on paper. Don't try to change your personality to write about yourself. Your voice is your voice; write the story as you would speak the story.

Begin your personal essay with an intriguing or entertaining part of the story. Personal essays can be written out of chronological order. You can begin with the end, the middle or the beginning of your story. The goal is to draw the reader in with the most compelling part first.

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  • Don't sugar coat anything. If the ending isn't "happy"--so be it. Don't try to make it sound better than it actually was. Every adult knows that life is not like Hollywood movies, so don't push for the sappy, feel-good ending. Keep your essay true to life.
  • Don't get bogged down in one part of your story. Keep it flowing. The easier your personal essay flows, the better the read will be.
  • Don't edit yourself while writing the essay. Just let pen touch paper (or fingers touch keyboard) and run with it. Sometimes the best writing happens when you aren't worried about the style or the form of your work.

Things Needed

  • Paper and pen or computer
  • Personal story to tell
  • Patience and Imagination

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