Personal Essay: Pathway to Clarity, Persuasion and Power

What’s the best way to air your personal views? First get clear on what they are, then write a personal essay!

Write an essay? you ask. Me, write an essay? Surely you joke!

I get that. I’ve spent most of my life thinking the same thing. Like most people, I always thought of essays as noxious English class assignments that fed dry toast to brains. 

That was before personal essay and creative nonfiction came of age. Now I recognize essays as both a tool for getting my thoughts clear and orderly, and also a dimension of story — stories explaining what we think and believe and why. Stories exploring Truth. They interlace nicely with stories about experiences. Most stories are hybrids, with elements of both.

Well-written personal essays sizzle with energy and sometimes humor. They make you think. I know this, because I’ve read a pile of them lately. The ones that spurred this post are blog posts by Kristen Lamb.

Two in particular are so powerful I hope they go viral. Both are calls to action, inciting the nation to get a grip and reclaim our sense of balance and humor. While well-meaning and serving an initial purpose, the Political and Emotional Correctness Police have become Nazis, and who isn’t tired of walking on eggshells all the time? I urge you to read them for yourselves:

In her essays Kristen mixes observations on the current state of cultural values with personal reflections on how these values affect them and society at large. She begins her first post by citing an article, “Is America Starting To Target Thought Crime?” That article reports on how Michele Obama anointed graduating high schoolers as thought police for their families. Yikes!  Kristen went on to build on the ramifications of that.

Her second post continues the theme. I don't see how anyone who reads Kristen's posts can avoid personal reflection and become more clear on personal thoughts.

I haven’t queried Kristen about the process she used to compile these essay/posts, but I’d bet a dime to a dollar that she learned something along the way. That she was more clear after writing than before.

How does that work? How can you do that? 

A few years ago I invited Sheila Bender, noted personal essay writer and teacher, and author of highly acclaimed Writing and Publishing Personal Essays,  to write a series of three guest posts, “Finding Starts in Personal Essay Writing.” That wheel still rolls smoothly down the road, so I invite you to take a few minutes to read through them.

Whether you plan to influence the world or not, do give personal essay writing a try. Take something you often ponder and write about your thoughts and feelings about it. That might be as seemingly simple as the challenges of being short, or something like the current Orlando tragedy. See where it goes. Who knows? You may write something as compelling as Kristen. Or you may just be more clear on your views and able to discuss them more effectively with friends and neighbors.

Points to Ponder: What do you want to be more clear about? What keeps you from sitting down to write? Would it help to write about the fears or reasons for reluctance? They may be the key to unlocking your power. 

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