The Art Of Writing A Personal Essay

The Art Of Writing A Personal Essay-29
Without change, she says, an essay is just something that happened, a topic instead of a story.Change can come through earth-shattering revelation—or, as Boggs shows, through quiet, even tentative steps.

Without change, she says, an essay is just something that happened, a topic instead of a story.Change can come through earth-shattering revelation—or, as Boggs shows, through quiet, even tentative steps.

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I think they’re probably right—except that I’ve never been exactly sure what an essay is.

When I think essay, I think five plodding paragraphs about the use of light as a symbol in Or I imagine much more experienced, serious writers picking up their pens, like Michel de Montaigne, the 16th-century Frenchman who spent most of his career honing some of the earliest examples of the form. So I asked other writers and editors for their thoughts about what essays are, and what makes good ones work.

What’s also evident in this essay is the writer’s subtle transformation.

Boggs contemplates some counterpoints—from a female gorilla on birth control pills to Virginia Woolf, who wrote on one occasion that the thrill of writing well surpassed her longtime desire for children—near the essay’s end.

But sometimes, when I’m trying to start out an essay, I’m not sure yet where the action is.

The Art Of Writing A Personal Essay

Panek, co-author of “because the moment that you start to put something down on paper, the reader is already interested in what came before.” The beginning of Belle Boggs’ lovely essay “The Art of Waiting” does just that.For those already writing about science, an essay can be a way of stepping into an unfamiliar field, whether it’s fluid dynamics or immunology, and exploring the most personally compelling facets.Essays are, in fact, what got Richard Panek, a journalist and fiction writer, into writing about science.“No matter how long you’ve been doing it, it’s easy to get lost in your own experience,” she says.She points to a successful essay about two women getting married in rural Washington.A writer can also create the tension and release that the arc of transformation brings, without getting too personal.If you can ratchet up the drama—setting up a problem, and making the essay the movement toward a solution—a reader will remain interested.Although it’s the story of one couple, the writer bridges the personal and the universal, relating not only a special wedding day but the joys and challenges faced by anyone getting married, along with insights into life in the rural West.Combining the personal and the universal in an essay that’s about science can give readers a more intimate connection to science and its process, a connection that’s often hard to create in a news story, or even a feature.“An essay can have just as much factual information, but it’s based around this unique, personal, internal logic,” says Hopson, who teaches a science essay course to graduate students in the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Science Communication program.Bringing this personal, internal logic to an idea can open up previously unexplored territory for readers—and for writers as well.

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