How to Write a Personal Essay: 8 Common Mistakes to Avoid

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We have been talking about writing memoirs for most of the month so I thought we could wrap up May with The Personal Essay.

Chat will be closed on Wednesday May 27 through Sunday May 31st

I have lifted some info from The Write Life.

**I realize a previous topic on what not to do in a memoir got me into some trouble with an unhappy author. I hope I was able to smooth things over with her.

When you don’t quite agree with something, say so, it enriches our chatroom experience. I don’t always agree with everything I bring into the newsletter or blog.

Common mistakes while writing an essay about yourself

Here are eight common mistakes you should avoid when writing a personal essay:

  1. Using essay to vent

Writers often use an essay as an opportunity to express a moralistic stand, rant about a controversial issue or vent about a family member. Don’t.

  1. Clearing your throat on the page

Most first drafts I critique come with at least three lines of superfluous throat-clearing that can easily go without impacting the piece.

  1. Writing long… way too long

Don’t be afraid of the butcher knife.

When you’re revising and polishing an essay, make sure what you’ve written is tight — there are no unnecessary words, no superfluous anecdotes and no nonsense!

  1. Overlooking day-to-day life as essay fodder

An essayist’s job is to extract universal meaning from the mundane facts and experiences of life.

  1. Using lazy language

Many writers tend to use words and phrases repeatedly.

  1. Being afraid of dialogue

Using direct dialogue is often more effective than telling the reader what someone said.

Instead of saying, “The pediatrician told us to get rid of our son’s thumb-sucking habit,” write “’If you don’t put a stop to his thumb-sucking before he’s three, his teeth will be set and the damage will be done,’ warned our pediatrician.”

  1. Holding back

If you’re determined to stay safely on the surface of your story, essay might not be the right form for you.

  1. Taking rejection personally

Personal essays are deeply intimate, so it’s painful when editors reject them.

Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun. Writing is a deeply personal and challenging pursuit, but it should be an enjoyable one, too.

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