Over the course of the semester, our class worked on a personal essay project that taught us how to embrace our identity as Mormon writers while remaining true to our literary roots. We went through multiple drafts, striving to develop focus on topics and moments in our lives that would be engaging to readers while also incorporating connections to the Book of Mormon. This was a difficult process that had frustrations as we tried to find balance and triumphs as we shared our stories and learned just how powerful opening up in a literary way can be.
To help you (future ENGL 268 writers, English Department faculty, friends and family, random internet trolls) understand how we got to this point, we've compiled a record on our experience with developing solid personal essays.
Things we tried to do:
1. Be Authentic
A personal essay needs to be personal. But how personal is too personal? We struggled with finding the right place between too much information and not enough detail. Mandy experienced this as she tried to accurately portray her experience in an emotionally abusive relationship.
Her first draft tried to exclude the relationship while focusing on the dream it prompted, but after feedback from her classmates and friends who read the essay she decided that draft wasn't entirely honest. To fully tell her story and to help readers understand why such a dream was needed, she opened up and the following drafts gave just enough detail to set the scene and establish pathos without oversharing some of the darker details.
Opening up and being vulnerable is difficult, but doing so can allow important discussions to take place if you're willing to have courage to get them started.
2. Share Intentionally
It can be tricky trying to determine the best format to share these essays online. Sharing online provides many opportunities to reach a vast audience. That audience can only be reached with constant promotion or direct messages to pre-determined readers. We are able to share our essays quickly covering more ground by posting on our social media, sending emails and posting on blogs. It is important to be cautious however about the length of the essays. Once we have reached 700-1000 words we are reaching the maximum length. People want short and to the point things they can read and get the most out of. Keeping it short and to the point is very important.
3. Use Dialogue (when appropriate)
Using quotes in a personal essay could add value to your story. Although using too many quotes might be a sign of weak writing, using quotes wisely in a personal essay helps to strength your statement.
Emily's essay was a great example of how using quotes helps to enrich an essay. In addition, it is very important to mention the author of the quote to help the reader identify the origin of the quote or simply by relate the quote to its owner. Even though paraphrasing is the best method to incorporate other people's thoughts into your essay, sometimes using a quote is the best way to express the feelings you want to convey to your audience.