One of many things that would show up if you googled my name – a good sort of thing to show an agent or editor or publisher – talking today about name recognition online
By Carol Brennan King
Personal Essay Writing and Why!
To get a book deal, through a publisher or editor, you must have name recognition. Basically, that is what we have been talking about in class this summer, the necessity for name recognition and how to get some.
Not only must you have name recognition, but for writing. So all those articles about your winning craft or athletic contests, or most anything else you could get recognized for other than writing, will not help you. Unless it is for being an expert in the field you want to write about.
So there’s the bad news. The good news is there are many places where you can be published for shorter pieces, like essays.
This week we are talking about personal essays, and writing doesn’t get much easier than personal essays. Think of it as short storytelling about something from your life that might interest someone else.
Right now, it is strawberry season in Northeast Pennsylvania. I could write a piece about whether picking strawberries or buying them ready-picked is better. I could talk about what to do with four quarts of berries when all you have ever done with berries is eat the ones someone else prepared.
I could write about the day my six-year-old came home with a newborn human in her arms. When I asked her where she got this tiny thing, she said Madame Bassou gave the baby to her. Now, there’s an interesting story I am not telling you about right now.
The point is you have lived a lot of interesting stories in your own life. You might string some of the related ones together as a memoir, but first, you need to know how to write them. So here we go.
- Before you write a word on the page, think of potential stories, and what values are hidden in them, values that might interest others and could be illustrated through a narrative or story you lived. So settle on one particular story that illustrated a value or something valuable that you learned by living through that story.
- Now, you might want to make a page full of notes about that story for starters. Then move along to your first sentence. For this essay to be interesting to a new reader, not just your family members, you have to have a compelling hook. You remember what that means from other classes we have had. That first sentence must be a sort of tease, disclosing just enough information to the reader for them to want more.
And remember, this is a show, don’t tell act. Now, maybe I wanted to write something for college students about study habits. I might start with something like this.
It was a glorious fall day, but an exam forced me to my desk where my limbs were frozen in place from studying for two solid hours. A headstand, I thought. That would get my blood circulating, and maybe I would even remember more. I stood up, shook my legs to limber up, and hands-on the floor, flung my legs up in the air against the door.
The next thing I remember is sitting in a crumpled pile, tears running down my cheeks, and feeling for blood in my thick hair where my full weight had connected with the wooden floor rather forcefully.
3. You now have the beginning of an engaging story. It’s time to think about interesting characters and an immersive setting. Or think about the characters (real live people) that you must have, perhaps as foils for your own story, and a setting written in a way that your reader can see it, is perhaps intrigued by it.
Remember, as in everything you write, you have to keep your audience in mind. You must write your story in a way that your readers can see themselves in the story, or at least see themselves watching it unfold. Your goal is for them to want to see the whole thing and what happened to you.
4. Think about little stories or anecdotes that will make up the heart of your essay, your story. If I was going to tell you the rest of my story about smacking my head on the floor, I would tell you about my friend’s mother coming up to my dorm room since she heard about my “accident.”
I might write about the ER visit and being scared to death about paying for it or what they would do to me if I couldn’t. And surely, I would write about the next day crawling up the stairs to my third-floor dorm room, crying, “I don’t want to have a concussion.”
There’s more, but I am not telling you here. But you see what I mean: a narrative or personal essay is comprised of little scenes necessary to tell your story.
5. The Conclusion or Point of the Essay: this is where you make sure your audience gets your target message or value. If I was writing the essay I have walked you through here, my audience might be a magazine aimed at college kids or high-schoolers getting ready for college.
My message might be about learning how to study effectively before you have to do it – and a two-hour straight session with no exercise is not the way to do it.
Again, if I was writing the essay I have used to illustrate my point, I might end up with something like this:
I did learn three things that day I smashed my head into a concussion and lost a week’s worth of classes. Number 1, don’t do what I did. Number 2, use a day-timer and schedule all your exams and serious study time that first week of school. Number 3…..
Well, you get the point.
We talked in class about markets for personal essays, but you missed all that. So come join us next Wednesday. Or google markets for personal essays with a tag naming your subject.
It might look like this: submission guidelines for personal essays about dogs…or about buying your first house…or finding a part-time job for retirees.
Well, there we are. It is hot outside, and I am tired. Have a great week, and if you can, join us Wednesday at the Abington Community Library, Clarks Summit, PA. You could even contact the library for the zoom info if you can’t physically join us.