“I have to write an essay about myself, but I don’t know where to start.” Does this sound like you? If so, rest assured that you are not alone. Writing about yourself can be one of the hardest things that you have to do, whether you’re writing a personal essay for a school project or for admission to a college or university. There are a lot of things to take into consideration when writing a personal essay, from which details are the most intriguing to potential readers to developing your own personal experiences into a story and knowing how to write sensitively about subjects and people in your life without causing offense.
A good place to start with any kind of essay is this paragraph and essay writing course on Udemy. It will walk you through the basic skills that you need to know as well as give you more advanced tips and tricks for writing great essays. However, there is still more that you need to know for this particular type of essay. Let’s start with the very beginning – coming up with an idea.
Ideas for Personal Essays
Whether you’ve been given a prompt (for example, “Write about the time in your life when you were happiest,”) or you’re starting from scratch, coming up with an idea can be difficult. One thing to keep in mind is that for your personal essay to really stand out, you need to write about an experience that not everybody goes through.
An important experience like your wedding day, the birth of a child or sibling, or an achievement such as graduating high school may have deep meaning for you. However, these are things that many people go through, and may not be particularly interesting for a reader. Think instead of the personal struggles that you might have gone through to make those accomplishments possible, and write about that instead.
There are many great courses on Udemy that can help you learn how to come up with great ideas. Consider checking one out if you regularly find yourself blocked creativity, or if you find that your ideas are a bit on the bland side. One tip that might help you is to discard the first five ideas you may come up with – if they’re the first thing you think of, they are likely the first thing others have thought of as well. After all, if you really want to stand out amongst a sea of essays, you don’t want to be writing on the same topics.
Beginning Your Essay
Your personal essay is essentially the story of your life – or at least, the story of one important moment or journey you have made in your life. Therefore, you should try as much as possible to think of your essay as if it were a story. Let’s take a look at some of the worst possible beginnings for a personal essay:
- “My name is Jane…”
- “When I was born…”
- “The happiest time in my life was when…”
Why are these bad? The answer is simple – you aren’t doing anything to capture the reader’s interest. At best, you are telling the reader something that they already know. At worst, you are using a very clichéd opening the reader has likely heard plenty of times already.
Try opening your personal essay by saying something unexpected, or by opening with a vivid and exciting memory from your life that ties directly into the essay you are writing. Look at these examples for contrast:
- “The tornado ripped through town. I could hear it whistling like a train as I hid in the bathroom with my brother and sister…”
- “I learned that my grandmother had died the day after my first school play.”
Writing About Sensitive Subjects
Sometimes you may feel driven to write about sensitive subjects in a personal essay, but how should this type of material be approached? First and foremost, do remember that you should choose the appropriate material for the audience you are writing for. While it may be okay to talk about a topic such as mental illness or poverty in an essay for a university application, you likely would not want to discuss any questionable things you might have done in the past, such as cheating on exams in high school.
Many people may wonder how to approach situations in which they want to talk about other people in their life, but don’t want to give away details that could identify them or implicate them in something without their consent. Remember that when it comes to writing personal essays, it is okay to change some details or facts such as names and dates if you find it necessary to do so out of respect for others.
Ending the Essay
For many people, the only thing harder than beginning a personal essay is ending one. After all, the story of your life isn’t over. So where do you say, “The End?” There are a few tips to keep in mind to properly end this kind of essay.
First, where does the story that you are telling end? If you were telling the story of recovering after the death of a loved one, you might choose the moment where you finally began to heal. If you were telling the story of overcoming a problem such as dyslexia, you could end with getting your first A in English class.
You may also consider an ending that mirrors the beginning of your essay. If you started with the story of being bullied, you may end your essay by talking about how you helped another person who was being bullied.
Just think creatively. Remember, your personal essay may be the truth, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think of it from a creative writing mindset. Udemy offers a course on memoir writing that could be ideal for those looking to go deeper into writing about the things that they have experienced in their lives. For those who don’t need to go quite into that much depth but who need help writing an essay for their college application, Udemy offers assistance with that as well. Be sure to check the course out so you can write the best personal essay possible.