Writing the Personal Essay
Writing the personal essay should be an exhilarating experience because you have a great deal of flexibility determining what writing techniques you choose to employ. However, you might want to keep your audience in mind and the publications where you wish to submit as you compose your essay, although you can always write the essay and decide after it is complete where to send it. You'll learn more about submitting your work in Chapter 22.
If you have ever taken a creative writing course and enjoyed it or have written fiction and took pleasure utilizing the techniques of the genre, you're in for a treat writing the personal essay. What applies to writing book-length memoirs (Chapter 18) and creative nonfiction (Chapter 19) can also be applicable in composing the personal essay.
Can I write a personal essay like any fiction?
While you are free to employ the techniques of creative writing to the personal essay, there is one important caveat: creativity may be applied to your writing style but not to the substance of your essay. As with all nonfiction, your material must be true.
Feel free to be descriptive of settings and characters. The people in your essays can be more than names and they should not be one-dimensional. Make use of dialogue and employ language to suggest metaphors and symbolism. In other words, be creative. You'll learn more about this in Chapter 19, where the genre of creative nonfiction is addressed.
Like Telling a Story
Writing a personal essay can be just like writing a short story. You might even have a plot running through the piece. So if you like storytelling, you'll enjoy writing personal essays. Of course, there is the stipulation that your “story” is true and not fantasy. This may sound easier than it is. Memory is not always accurate — not yours or even people you might interview. When and where to draw the line between what is and what may not be true will be discussed when considering the ethics of writing in Chapter 20.