How to Write a Personal Experience Essay

Updated July 12, 2018
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Your personal experiences are ironic, poignant, ordinary in a remarkable way, funny in an excruciating way and filled with bizarre "opportunities for growth." What you understand as a result of them touches a deep universal core. You have something to say. With a few structural guidelines, you'll be on your way to shaping rich essays based on the life you've lived, seen and felt. Maybe whole books of them.

Pick your subject. You can write about your first job, outings with friends or family, a defining achievement at school, a meal you once cooked or something that entirely embarrassed you. The arcane details of your experience may be filled with comedy or wisdom. Pick a subject and write about it in the first person.

Name the pretext for writing this particular essay at this specific time, and know how you want to approach the subject. Your angle could be based on the time of year, a news event or a triggered memory.

Determine your emotional attitude about your subject. The tone of your essay could be ironic, funny, wistful, sad or argumentative.

Tell a story. An effective way to write an essay is to enclose it in an anecdote. Write actual scenes. Set up the essay with the beginning of a story. When you reach a point of final insight at the end of the essay, you can conclude the piece with the outcome of the original story.

Provide universal insight. Your deeply personal story should become everyone's story and strike a chord with anyone reading it.

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  • Start with images and ideas. It's fine if it takes a lot of drafts before you really understand what the piece is about.
  • Set a daily time for writing your essay. This regularity will help your unconscious creativity to kick in. Even just 10 minutes a day is enough to get started.


  • Tone is a fine line. Sarcasm can work if it's dignified. Best not to whine, complain, lecture or be smug. In personal experience essays, humility and humor help keep your readers on your side.

Things Needed

  • Pen
  • Paper
  • Your natural empathy, memory and wit
  • Willingness to share the personal experiences and insights of your life

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