Pro Tips For Writing a Dynamic Personal Essay

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By Estelle Erasmus

I have been a fan of BlogHer since before I was a VOTY. I’ve been thrilled to be a BlogHer Influencer, and now I’m a SheKnows Parenting Expert. I recently wrote an original piece for the BlogHer Experts Among Us BlogHer University Series on how to write a dynamic personal essay.  I’ve also begun offering writing and editing services for writers who want to get published.

After a 20-plus-year career in publishing, I know how to expertly package material to get an editor’s (and reader’s) attention and I can help you do it, too. Here are my tips on how to successfully write a personal essay that will get read, shared, and appreciated.

#1: Mine Your Life for Stories

Writing is one area where age and experience works in your favor. Think about it: The more you have lived, the more stories you can tell. Couple that with a timely or trendy topic or angle, and you have publishing gold.

Writing a personal essay works best when you can write about a topic that you are passionate (or obsessed) about. I wrote a piece that won a Voices of the Year honor at #BlogHer15, “Giving Up the Ghost Baby,” after undergoing a devastating ectopic pregnancy. A piece I wrote for Marie Claire was about a creepy roommate I had years ago, who had never left my mind because her behavior was so bizarre.

#2 Open Strong

A powerful opening brings your reader right into the action, rather than including background information in a conversational style. Many of us have probably written in this conversational style on our blogs; for instance, “I woke up this morning, had coffee (black), drove to the supermarket, looked up and down the aisles searching for the perfect avocado, and then can you believe it, a crazy man started screaming at me …”

A personal essay, though, must be crafted with carefully chosen words. It would likely start right in the middle of the action, with perhaps a small preface. “Standing in the supermarket, perusing the summer-fattened avocados, I heard a staccato of background noise. To my horror, the sound was housed in the body of a small, wizened man, and he was at screaming at me …”

Great opening sentences of essays get your attention, make you want to read on and often pose a question that you feel needs to be answered.

Good starting sentences:

Purple Clover, Susan Shapiro:
“Try my shrimp tempura,” he said and offered a chopstick-full.
“I don’t need another Jewish mother,” I told my tall, 40-year-old blind date, who’d ordered the most fattening dish on the Japanese menu.

New York Times Motherlode, Jordan Rosenfeld:
I used to make terrible judgments about what it meant to be a “PTA mom,” which stood for “Perfect Type A.” I envisioned a carefully coifed, cupcake-baking beast of a woman whose pastel capris never bore so much as a smudge of child-effluence, all with a polished smile.

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11 thoughts on “Pro Tips For Writing a Dynamic Personal Essay”

  1. The beginning is always the most difficult part, in my opinion. Once I have that, all else flows pretty easily. So thank you for the suggestions on that, as well as all the other helpful tips (the quotes from others are genuinely appreciated!). Good stuff, Estelle!

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