Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Little List For Personal Essayists

I love Christmas ornaments. The ones that are favorites usually have some meaning or a story that goes along with them. It might be a place it was purchased--maybe on a trip. Or it could be one that was given by a special person for a particular reason. Those are the ones that give us a topic for a personal essay--the nonfiction essays that are often autobiographical in nature. Ones that give the facts but are also filled with some emotion. 

One of the tackiest ornaments on our tree is the one that means the most to me. Forty-nine years ago, our first child was born a month prior to Christmas. She had a birth defect that meant she had to be hospitalized for quite some time. Ken was a trust officer in a bank. One afternoon, he visited one of his customers in a nursing home. The lady knew that this was our first child and that she had severe problems. That afternoon, the woman who needed skilled nursing care handed Ken a funny little elf on a golden string. The elf had his knees pulled up and arms wrapped around them. His rubber face was not a thing of beauty. It was a cheap little ornament the lady had won at a Bingo game but she gave it to Ken with a loving heart and her wish for the baby to survive a coming surgery. We placed the cheap little elf on our tree that year along with other ornaments far more beautiful. Our sweet little girl only lived seven weeks but the elf ornament was given a special place on our tree and in our hearts each and every year since then. I could turn this little story into a full-length personal essay with sensory details if time and space were not a factor here. 

But you, too, have special ornaments on your tree that could be the topic of a personal essay. Look around your home for other things that might be a personal essay subject. It's how a lot of Chicken Soup for the Soul stories are written. If whatever the item is has special meaning for you, it could help you send a message to others through the essay you write. Personal essays are also meant to entertain as well as convey a message.

A little list of things to keep in mind when writing a personal essay:
  • It must be nonfiction
  • Is written in a conversational tone
  • Should send a message of some kind to the reader
  • Usually has a universal truth in it
  • Should bring out emotion in the reader
  • Is filled with sensory details
  • Is well organized
  • Is free of mechanical errors

When you have written a personal essay, use this little checklist to see if you have kept the qualities needed. Go through your files and see how other personal essays you've written measure up. 

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