Personal essays often come to surface as the popular component of many college admissions applications. But along with this, they also play a great role in literature. Many writers have and continue to explore this interesting and fun form of self-expression.
But for both the beginner and novice writer alike, there is always a question of boundaries when it comes to writing-especially with the personal essay
. What do my readers want to see? How much should I give them? And what should I leave out? Though the answers to these questions may vary considerably, there is a general notion that most people will agree to; some details are just not appropriate for your essay. Which leads us to our first item in the not to be included
Avoid the inappropriate; or simply TMI (too-much-information)
One of the first things that may come to mind when we think of what not to include in a personal essay is, too much information! This issue can plague us whenever we are requested to or choose to write about our personal experiences, thoughts or opinions. We want to be honest and upfront with our readers without going overboard and having an anxiety attack after publication.
So how do you decide what's ok to share and what's not?
In most cases your audience will guide your sharing decisions when crafting your personal essay (as well as your own personal limits, morals, and principles). Along with considering the long term affects of your words, you also may want to think about how much ammunition you give others to criticize you with. This may not be applicable to everyone; but for instance, if you hold a particular position in your community or at work, you'll want to be very careful about what personal data you choose share (especially if the essay is published).
Altogether, this may seem like a lot to think about when writing, but more likely than not your instinct should tell you when to stop and when to keep going. And even though its good to keep your critics in mind for some things, by no means should you allow them to completely damper your creativity when writing.
Some common sense guidelines that may help you when sharing;
Common sense tips for personal writing
- don't share anything you wouldn't want your teenager to know about you
- outside of your name never reveal identifying information such as a full birth date
- if thinking about it makes you blush-think twice about sharing it
- don't use language that you wouldn't use in front of your mother
- avoid speaking about friends and family in a way that would upset them
- if you feel tempted to lie or exaggerate; force yourself to make the best of the truth
Fictional tales have no place in yours!
Secondly, is it fiction or nonfiction? In general a personal essay is considered to be nonfiction or more commonly, creative nonfiction. The term creative may be because these essays
usually have a little more spice to them than some everyday nonfiction pieces like news stories or biographies. And with that readers of creative nonfiction are expecting just that-nonfiction. If they wanted an interesting lie or high-tale, they have thousands of pieces to choose from! But they chose your personal essay, perhaps, to read and experience your genuine life experiences (or opinions, thoughts, and ideas).
So if the purpose of the personal essay is clear, how do people sometimes fall into fictional writing?
Well in most cases when people set out to compose their essays their intentions are to relay their own experiences or opinions. But sometimes, specifically with the personal narrative
, a person may be tempted to liven-up
their story by adding things that never really occurred or create fictional characters to make it easier to tell. All of these actions may have good intentions but actually can bring about disastrous consequences. One being, a lie that spirals out of control. A person may start off with one small adjustment (lie) or extra detail (another lie) and end up with an event that is completely foreign to the one that actually occurred. This all can be avoided by just sticking to the facts.
Another helpful tip is to know the many choices you have as a personal essay writer
. Bare in mind that you're not limited to your own personal stories or tales. If you can't remember all the details of the incident that occurred in high school, or can't figure out an interesting way to share what happened to you when you were 9; you can just as easily tread other paths of personal writing. These come in many forms; a few are detailed below.
Two interesting forms of personal essay writing
- Personal experiences - Your personal experiences don't have to be a story. You can formulate an essay simply by relying on a reflection of a general experience. For instance, your essay may be an analysis of what its like to be asian american, or biracial in a community that is predominantly one race etc. (Whatever your own life experience is)
- A general topic of public concern - Even though you can choose to write about whatever you'd like, many personal essays deal with issues that most people care about; such as, poverty, the environment, societal problems etc. *And with a general topic, the essay is still made personal as it is written through your lens or personal view and perspective on the topic.
What should be included in your personal essay
So lastly, after a lengthy discussion of what you should leave out of your essay, exactly what should you include? Outside of a well structured argument, one of your primary objectives should be to give your readers a unique experience; one that can only be obtained by learning about your genuine thoughts, opinions, and ideas.
Often times when new to writing, or just uncomfortable with writing about self, people tend to fall into using a lot of cliches or generic and unoriginal responses and expressions. This may stem from uncertainty in ones own concepts and ideas. And though there is no need to reinvent the wheel, its still very important to try and produce genuine responses to events and situations, rather than simply writing up what you think the reader wants to hear.