How to Write a Creative Essay: Useful Tips and Examples

creative writing

Essay creative writing is not always seen as fun by most students, but the realm of creative essays can offer an enjoyable twist. The inherent freedom in choosing a topic and expressing your thoughts makes this type of paper a creative playground. Engaging in composing a creative essay provides an opportunity to flex your creative muscles. Yet, if you're new to crafting compositions, it can pose a challenge. This article guides you through the steps to write an impressive creative essay, helping you navigate the process seamlessly. In a hurry? Our writing service is there for you 24/7, with guidance and practical help.

What Is a Creative Essay

A creative essay is a form of writing that goes beyond traditional academic structures, allowing the author to express themselves more imaginatively and artistically. Unlike formal essays, creative ones emphasize storytelling, personal reflection, and the exploration of emotions. They often incorporate literary elements such as vivid descriptions, dialogue, and poetic language to engage readers on a more emotional and sensory level. Follow our creative essay tips to experiment with style and structure, offering a unique platform to convey ideas, experiences, or perspectives in a captivating and inventive way.

To answer the question what does creative writing mean, it’s necessary to point out that it departs from traditional academic writing, offering a canvas for artistic expression and storytelling. It diverges from the rigid structure of formal writings, providing a platform for writers to infuse their work with imagination and emotion. In this genre, literary elements such as vivid descriptions and poetic language take center stage, fostering a more engaging and personal connection with the reader.

Unlike a poem analysis essay , this form of writing prioritizes narrative and self-expression, allowing authors to delve into their experiences and perspectives uniquely. It's a departure from the conventional rules, encouraging experimentation with style and structure. Creative essays offer a distinct avenue for individuals to convey ideas and emotions, weaving a tapestry that captivates and resonates with readers on a deeper, more sensory level.

personal essay in creative writing

Creative Writing Essay Outline Explained From A to Z

Moving on, let's delve into how to write a creative writing essay from s structural perspective. Despite the focus on creativity and imagination, a robust structure remains essential. Consider your favorite novel – does it not follow a well-defined beginning, middle, and end? So does your article. Before diving in, invest some time crafting a solid plan for your creative writing essay.

creative writing quotes

Creative Essay Introduction

In creative essay writing, the introduction demands setting the scene effectively. Begin with a concise portrayal of the surroundings, the time of day, and the historical context of the present scenario. This initial backdrop holds significant weight, shaping the atmosphere and trajectory of the entire storyline. Ensure a vivid depiction, employing explicit descriptions, poetic devices, analogies, and symbols to alter the text's tone promptly.

Creative Essay Body

The body sections serve as the engine to propel the storyline and convey the intended message. Yet, they can also be leveraged to introduce shifts in motion and emotion. For example, as creative writers, injecting conflict right away can be a powerful move if the plot unfolds slowly. This unexpected twist startles the reader, fundamentally altering the narrative's tone and pace. Additionally, orchestrating a fabricated conflict can keep the audience on edge, adding an extra layer of intrigue.

Creative Essay Conclusion

Typically, creative writers conclude the narrative towards the end. Introduce a conflict and then provide its resolution to tie up the discourse neatly. While the conclusion often doesn't lead to the story's climax, skilled writers frequently deploy cliffhangers. By employing these writing techniques, the reader is left in suspense, eagerly anticipating the fate of the characters without a premature revelation.

Creative Writing Tips

Every student possesses a distinct mindset, individual way of thinking, and unique ideas. However, considering the academic nature of creative writing essays, it is essential to incorporate characteristics commonly expected in such works, such as:

how to become creative

  • Select a topic that sparks your interest or explores unique perspectives. A captivating subject sets the stage for an engaging paper.
  • Begin with a vivid and attention-grabbing introduction. Use descriptive language, anecdotes, or thought-provoking questions to draw in your readers from the start.
  • Clearly articulate the main idea or theme of your essay in a concise thesis statement. This provides a roadmap for your readers and keeps your writing focused.
  • Use descriptive language to create a sensory experience for your readers. Appeal to sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell to enhance the imagery.
  • Play with the structure of your content. Consider nonlinear narratives, flashbacks, or unconventional timelines to add an element of surprise and creativity.
  • If applicable, develop well-rounded and relatable characters. Provide details that breathe life into your characters and make them memorable to the reader.
  • Establish a vivid and immersive setting for your narrative. The environment should contribute to the overall mood and tone.
  • Blend dialogue and narration effectively. Dialogue adds authenticity and allows characters to express themselves, while narration provides context and insight.
  • Revisit your essay for revisions. Pay attention to the flow, coherence, and pacing. Edit for clarity and refine your language to ensure every word serves a purpose.
  • Share your creative writing article with others and welcome constructive feedback. Fresh perspectives can help you identify areas for improvement and refine your storytelling.
  • Maintain an authentic voice throughout your essay. Let your unique style and perspective shine through, creating a genuine connection with your audience.
  • Craft a memorable conclusion that leaves a lasting impression. Summarize key points, evoke emotions, or pose thought-provoking questions to resonate with your readers.

Types of Creative Writing Essays

A creative writing essay may come in various forms, each offering a unique approach to storytelling and self-expression. Some common types include:

  • Reflects the author's personal experiences, emotions, and insights, often weaving in anecdotes and reflections.


  • Focuses on creating a vivid and sensory-rich portrayal of a scene, person, or event through detailed descriptions.
  • Tells a compelling story with a clear plot, characters, and often a central theme or message.


  • Encourages introspection and thoughtful examination of personal experiences, revealing personal growth and lessons learned.


  • Explores and explains a particular topic, idea, or concept creatively and engagingly.


  • Utilizes creative elements to persuade the reader to adopt a particular viewpoint or take a specific action.


  • These creative writing papers allow for the free expression of imagination, often incorporating elements of fantasy, surrealism, or speculative fiction.

Literary Analysis

  • Learning how to write a creative writing essay, analyze and interpret a piece of literature, and incorporate creativity to explore deeper meanings and connections.
  • Blends personal experiences with travel narratives, offering insights into different cultures, places, and adventures.
  • Focuses on creating a detailed and engaging portrait of a person, exploring their character, experiences, and impact on others.


  • Pushes the boundaries of traditional essay structures, experimenting with form, style, and narrative techniques.
  • Combines elements from different essay types, allowing for a flexible and creative approach to storytelling.

As you can see, there are many types of creative compositions, so we recommend that you study how to write an academic essay with the help of our extensive guide.

How to Start a Creative Writing Essay

Starting a creative writing essay involves capturing the reader's attention and setting the tone for the narrative. Here are some effective ways to begin:

  • Pose a thought-provoking question that intrigues the reader and encourages them to contemplate the topic.
  • Begin with a short anecdote or a brief storytelling snippet that introduces the central theme or idea of your essay.
  • Paint a vivid picture of the setting using descriptive language, setting the stage for the events or emotions to unfold.
  • Open with a compelling dialogue that sparks interest or introduces key characters, immediately engaging the reader in the conversation.
  • Incorporate a relevant quotation or epigraph that sets the mood or provides insight into the essay's theme.
  • Begin with a bold or intriguing statement that captivates the reader's attention, encouraging them to delve further into your essay.
  • Present a contradiction or unexpected scenario that creates a sense of curiosity and compels the reader to explore the resolution.
  • Employ a striking metaphor or simile that immediately draws connections and conveys the essence of your creative essay.
  • Start by directly addressing the reader, creating a sense of intimacy and involvement right from the beginning.
  • Establish the mood or atmosphere of your essay by describing the emotions, sounds, or surroundings relevant to the narrative.
  • Present a dilemma or conflict that hints at the central tension of your essay, enticing the reader to discover the resolution.
  • Start in the middle of the action, dropping the reader into a pivotal moment that sparks curiosity about what happened before and what will unfold.

Choose an approach to how to write a creative essay that aligns with your tone and theme, ensuring a captivating and memorable introduction.

Creative Essay Formats

Working on a creative writing essay offers a canvas for writers to express themselves in various formats, each contributing a unique flavor to the storytelling. One prevalent format is personal writing, where writers delve into their own experiences, emotions, and reflections, creating a deeply personal narrative that resonates with readers. Through anecdotes, insights, and introspection, personal essays provide a window into the author's inner world, fostering a connection through shared vulnerabilities and authentic storytelling.

Another captivating format is the narrative, which unfolds like a traditional story with characters, a plot, and a clear arc. Writers craft a compelling narrative, often with a central theme or message, engaging readers in a journey of discovery. Through vivid descriptions and well-developed characters, narrative articles allow for the exploration of universal truths within the context of a captivating storyline, leaving a lasting impression on the audience.

For those who seek to blend fact and fiction, the imaginative format opens the door to vivid exploration. This format allows writers to unleash their imagination, incorporating elements of fantasy, surrealism, or speculative fiction. By bending reality and weaving imaginative threads into the narrative, writers can transport readers to otherworldly realms or offer fresh perspectives on familiar themes. The imaginative essay format invites readers to embrace the unexpected, challenging conventional boundaries and stimulating creativity in both the writer and the audience. Check out our poetry analysis essay guide to learn more about the freedom of creativity learners can adopt while working on assignments. 

Creative Essay Topics and Ideas

As you become familiar with creative writing tips, we’d like to share several amazing topic examples that might help you get out of writer’s block:

  • The enchanted garden tells a tale of blooms and whispers.
  • Lost in time, a journey through historical echoes unfolds.
  • Whispering winds unravel the secrets of nature.
  • The silent symphony explores the soul of music.
  • Portraits of the invisible capture the essence of emotions.
  • Beyond the horizon is a cosmic adventure in stardust.
  • Can dreams shape reality? An exploration of the power of imagination.
  • The forgotten key unlocks doors to the past.
  • Ripples in the void, an exploration of cosmic mysteries.
  • Echoes of eternity are stories written in the stars.
  • In the shadow of giants, unveils the unsung heroes.
  • Can words paint pictures? An exploration of the artistry of literary expression.
  • Whispers of the deep explore the ocean's hidden stories.
  • Threads of time weave lives through generations.
  • Do colors hold emotions? A journey of painting the canvas of feelings.
  • The quantum quandary navigates the world of subatomic particles.
  • Reflections in a mirror unmask the layers of identity.
  • The art of silence crafts narratives without words.
  • The ethereal dance explores movement beyond the visible.
  • Can shadows speak? Unveiling stories cast in darkness.

Examples of Creative Writing Essays

We've added a couple of brief creative writing essays examples for your reference and inspiration.

Creative Writing Example 1: Admission Essay

Creative writing example 2: narrative essay.

personal essay in creative writing

What Are the Types of Creative Writing Essays?

What is a creative writing essay, how to start a creative writing essay, what are some creative writing tips.

personal essay in creative writing

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Creative writing essays: tips, examples, and strategies, carla johnson.

  • June 14, 2023
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Creative writing essays are a unique type of academic writing that lets you show your creativity and imagination while still following the rules of academic writing. Creative writing essays are not like other types of essays that rely heavily on research and facts. Instead, they depend on your ability to tell a story, create vivid images, and make your readers feel something.

Writing creatively is important for anyone who wants to express themselves in a unique and interesting way, not just fiction and poetry writers. Whether you are writing a personal essay , a descriptive essay, or an argumentative essay, adding creative elements can help make your writing more interesting and memorable.

In this article, we’ll talk about what to do and what not to do when writing a creative essay . We’ll look at tips, examples, and ways to write well. By following these rules, you can learn how to write creatively while still meeting the requirements of academic writing.

What You'll Learn

Understanding Creative Writing Essays

To write a good creative writing essay, you need to know how this unique type of academic writing works.

A creative writing essay is a type of academic essay that uses elements of creative writing, like telling a story, building characters, and using literary devices. The goal of a creative writing essay is to get the reader’s attention and hold it while still getting the message or argument across.

There are different kinds of creative writing essays, such as personal essays, essays that describe something, and essays that tell a story . Each of these types of essays needs a different way of writing them, but they all need to include creative elements.

Dos of Creative Writing Essays

Here are some dos of creative writing essays to keep in mind when writing:

1. Choosing a strong and interesting topic: Choose a topic that is interesting to you and that will engage your readers. This will help to keep your writing focused and engaging.

2. Developing a clear and engaging thesis statement: Your thesis statement should clearly convey the message or argument you are making in your essay . It should be engaging and capture the reader’s attention.

3. Creating well-rounded and dynamic characters: Characters are an important part of any creative writing essay. Develop characters that are well-rounded and dynamic, with their own unique personalities, motivations, and flaws.

4. Using sensory details to enhance the story: Sensory details, such as sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures, can help to bring yourwriting to life and create a more immersive experience for your readers. Use vivid and descriptive language to evoke the senses and create a more vivid world for your readers to imagine.

5. Incorporating dialogue effectively: Dialogue can be a powerful tool for conveying information and developing characters. Use dialogue to reveal character traits, advance the plot, and create tension.

6. Utilizing literary devices to enhance the story: Literary devices like metaphors, similes, symbols, and images can make a story more interesting and help the reader understand it better. Use these tools sparingly and on purpose to make your effect stronger.

By using these dos in your creative writing essay, you can make it more interesting, easy to remember, and effective.

To write a good creative writing essay, you need to use your imagination, skills, and knowledge. By learning the basics of this unique type of writing and following the dos in this article, you can make a more interesting and effective creative writing essay. Remember to pick a strong and interesting topic, make characters that are well-rounded, use details and dialogue well, and use literary devices to make the story better.

Don’ts of Creative Writing Essays

To avoid common pitfalls when writing a creative writing essay, here are some don’ts to keep in mind:

1. Overusing adjectives and adverbs: While descriptive language is important in creative writing, overusing adjectives and adverbs can make your writing feel cluttered and overwhelming.

2. Using cliches and predictable plot lines: Creative writing is all about bringing something new and fresh to the table. Using cliches and predictable plot lines can make your writing feel unoriginal and uninspired.

3. Writing flat and uninteresting characters: Characters are an important part of any creative writing essay. Flat and uninteresting characters can make your writing feel dull and unengaging.

4. Forgetting to revise and edit: Like any form of academic writing, it is important to revise and edit your creative writing essay to ensure that it is polished and error-free.

5. Using weak verbs and passive voice: Weak verbs and passive voice can make your writing feel flat and uninteresting. Use strong and active verbs to create a more dynamic and engaging narrative.

Inspiring Creative Writing Essay Examples

To gain a better understanding of what makes a successful creative writing essay, here are some inspiring examples to analyze:

1. The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

2. “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

3. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

4. “A Good Man is Hard to Find”by Flannery O’Connor

5. “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe

6. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber

7. “The Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield

8. The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

9. The Love Song of J . Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot

10. “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell

By looking at these examples, you can see that symbolism, foreshadowing, and irony are often used in creative writing essays that work well. They also have well-thought-out characters, interesting plots, and language that evokes the senses and helps the reader picture a vivid world.

Each of these examples shows a different side of what it means to be human and helps us learn more about the world around us. These essays show how creative writing can captivate and interest readers, whether it’s about love, death, or what it’s like to be human.

Some of the most important things to learn from these examples are how important it is to have strong characters, use descriptive language well, and use literary devices to make the story better. By looking at these good examples of creative writing essays, writers can learn how to use the same techniques in their own work to make essays that are more interesting and effective.

How to Start a Creative Writing Essay with a Bang

Starting a creative writing essay in a way that captivates your reader is crucial for the success of your essay. Here are some different strategies you can use to start your essay with a bang:

1. Using attention-grabbing hooks to draw in the reader: Start with a provocative statement, a surprising fact, or a rhetorical question to pique the reader’s interest.

2. Crafting a strong opening sentence or paragraph: Create a vivid image or use descriptive language to set the scene and draw the reader into the story.

3. Starting in the middle of the action: Begin your story in the middle of a dramatic or exciting scene to immediately engage your reader.

4. Using an anecdote: Start with a personal anecdote that relates to the theme or message of your essay to draw the reader into your story.

By using attention-grabbing hooks and crafting a strong opening sentence or paragraph, you can hook your reader from the beginning and keep them engaged throughout your essay.

Elements of a Successful Creative Writing Essay

To write a successful creative writing essay, it is important to incorporate certain elements into your writing. Here are some elements to keep in mind:

1. Developing a strong plot and narrative structure: Your essay should have a clear beginning, middle, and end, with a well-developed plot that keeps the reader engaged.

2. Creating compelling and relatable characters: Your characters should be well-rounded, withunique personalities, motivations, and flaws that make them relatable and interesting to the reader.

3. Using descriptive language and sensory details: Use vivid and sensory language to create a world that the reader can imagine and visualize. This can enhance the reading experience and make your writing feel more immersive.

4. Incorporating dialogue and literary devices effectively: Dialogue can be a powerful tool for conveying information and developing characters. Literary devices like metaphor, simile, and symbolism can also be used to enhance the story and create deeper meaning.

5. Crafting a satisfying ending : Your essay should have a satisfying and conclusive ending that ties up loose ends and leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

To write a good creative writing essay, you need to use your imagination, skills, and knowledge. Use hooks and a strong first sentence or paragraph to get people interested in your essay right away. To make sure your story is successful, include things like a strong plot and story structure, interesting characters, descriptive language and sensory details, good dialogue and literary devices, and a satisfying ending. With these tips and elements in mind, you can write a powerful and memorable creative writing essay that engages and inspires your readers.

Creative Writing Essay Format

When it comes to formatting a creative writing essay, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind:

1. Use a standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, in 12-point size.

2. Double-space the text and use 1-inch margins on all sides.

3. Include a header with your name, the title of your essay , and the page number.

4. Use paragraph breaks to separate different ideas or sections of your essay .

5. Use italics or quotation marks to indicate dialogue or emphasize certain words or phrases.

Proper formatting is important to ensure that your work looks professional and is easy to read. By following these guidelines, you can create a polished and well-formatted creative writing essay.

When organizing and structuring your essay , consider using a clear and logical structure. This can include an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. You may also want to use headings and subheadings to break up your writing into sections and make it easier to follow.

Creative Writing Essay Topics

Generating creative writing essay topics can be a fun and creative process. Here are some brainstorming techniques and examples to help you come up with ideas:

Brainstorming Techniques:

1. Freewriting: Set a timer for 10-15 minutes and write down whatever comes to mind. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling, just write freely.

2. Mind Mapping: Start with a central idea and branch out with related ideas. This can help you visualize connections between ideas and spark new ones.

3. Listing: Make a list of words or phrases that relate to a central theme or idea. This can help you see patterns and connections between ideas.

Examples of Creative Writing Essay Topics:

1. A childhood memory that shaped who you are today.

2. A personal essay about overcoming a challenge.

3. A fictional story set in a dystopian society.

4. A character study of a family member or friend .

5. A descriptive essay about a memorable place .

6. An exploration of a unique hobby or interest.

7. A persuasive essay about a social or political issue .

8. A narrative essay about a journey or adventure .

9. A creative nonfiction essay about a historical event or person.

10. A personal essay about your relationship with nature .

11. A fictional story about a time traveler.

12. An essay about a defining moment in your life .

13. A character study of a famous historical figure .

14. A descriptive essay about a favoritefood or dish.

15. A personal essay about your experience with mental health .

16. A fictional story about a haunted house.

17. A persuasive essay about the importance of education .

18. A narrative essay about a difficult decision you had to make.

19. A creative nonfiction essay about a place that has special meaning to you.

20. A personal essay about your experience with a different culture.

21. A fictional story about a person with a superpower.

22. A character study of a famous author or artist.

23. A descriptive essay about your favorite season.

24. A persuasive essay about the benefits of exercise.

25. A narrative essay about a trip that changed your perspective.

26. A creative nonfiction essay about your first job .

27. A personal essay about your experience with discrimination .

28. A fictional story about a post-apocalyptic world.

29. A character study of a famous musician or athlete.

30. A descriptive essay about a favorite childhood memory.

It is important to choose a topic that is both interesting and manageable. Consider your interests and passions, as well as the audience you are writing for. Remember that a well-chosen topic can make your writing more engaging and effective, while also making the writing process more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Tips for Making Your Creative Writing Essay Interesting

– Using descriptive language and sensory details

– Incorporating conflict and tension into the story

– Developing complex and dynamic characters

– Using humor, irony, or suspense to engage the reader

To make your creative writing essay interesting and engaging, consider the following tips:

1. Use descriptive language and sensory details: Creating a vivid world for the reader to imagine can enhance the reading experience and make your writing more immersive.

2. Incorporate conflict and tension into the story: Conflict drives the narrative forward and creates tension that keeps the reader engaged.

3. Develop complex and dynamic characters: Characters with unique personalities, motivations, and flaws can make your story more relatable and interesting.

4. Use humor, irony, or suspense to engage the reader: Adding a touch of humor, irony, or suspense can make your writing more engaging and keep the reader hooked.

By using these techniques, you can make your creative writing essay more interesting and memorable for your readers.

Revision and Editing Tips for Creative Writing Essays

Revision and editing are important steps in the writing process. Here are some tips for revising and editing your creative writing essay:

1. Take a break: Step away from your writing for a few hours or days to gain a fresh perspective on your work .

2. Read your work out loud: This can help you catch errors and awkward phrasing that may not be immediately apparent when reading silently.

3. Get feedback from others: Share your work with others and ask for constructive criticism and feedback.

4. Look for common mistakes: Pay attention to common mistakes such as grammar and spelling errors, repetition, and inconsistencies.

5.Focus on clarity and conciseness: Ensure that your writing is clear and concise, and that your ideas are presented in a logical and organized manner.

6. Make sure your characters are consistent: Ensure that your characters’ actions, motivations, and personalities are consistent throughout the story.

7. Cut unnecessary words and phrases: Eliminate unnecessary words and phrases to tighten your writing and make it more impactful.

8. Check for pacing: Ensure that your story is paced well and that it moves at a pace that keeps the reader engaged.

9. Pay attention to the ending: Ensure that your ending is satisfying and that it ties up loose ends in a way that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

By revising and editing your creative writing essay, you can improve the overall quality of your work and ensure that it is polished and error-free.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. what is a creative writing essay.

A creative writing essay is a type of essay that allows writers to express their creativity and imagination. It can take many forms, including personal essays , short stories, poetry, and more.

2. What are the elements of a creative writing essay?

The elements of a creative writing essay include a strong plot and narrative structure, compelling and relatable characters, descriptive language and sensory details, effective use of dialogue and literary devices, and a satisfying ending.

3. How do I make my creative writing essay interesting?

You can make your creative writing essay interesting by using descriptive language and sensory details, incorporating conflict and tension into the story, developing complex and dynamic characters, and using humor, irony, or suspense to engage the reader.

4. What is the best way to start a creative writing essay?

You can start a creative writing essay with a provocative statement, a surprising fact, or a rhetorical question to pique the reader’s interest. Alternatively, you can create a vivid image or use descriptive language to set the scene and draw the reader into the story.

5. How can I revise and edit my creative writing essay effectively?

To revise and edit your creative writing essay effectively, take a break, read your work out loud, get feedback from others, look for common mistakes, focus on clarity and conciseness, ensure consistency in character development, cut unnecessary words and phrases, check for pacing, and pay attention to the ending.

In conclusion, a creative writing essay is a powerful way to express your creativity and imagination. By incorporating the elements of a strong plot and narrative structure, compelling characters, descriptive language and sensory details, effective use of dialogue and literary devices, and a satisfying ending, you can create a memorable and impactful piece of writing. To make your essay interesting , consider using descriptive language, incorporating conflict and tension, developing complex characters, and using humor, irony, or suspense. When revising and editing your essay, take a break, read your work out loud, get feedback, and pay attention to common mistakes.

We encourage you to start your own creative writing essay and explore the many possibilities that this type of writing offers. Remember to choose a topic that is both interesting and manageable, and to let your creativity and imagination shine through in your writing. With these tips and techniques in mind, you can create a powerful and memorable creative writing essay that engages and inspires your readers.

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Humanities LibreTexts

4.13: Writing a Personal Essay

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Learning Objectives

  • Describe techniques for writing an effective personal essay

How to Write a Personal Essay

One particular and common kind of narrative essay is the personal narrative essay. Many of you have already written at least one of these – in order to get to college. The personal essay is a narrative essay focused on you. Typically, you write about events or people in your life that taught you important life lessons. These events should have changed you somehow. From this choice will emerge the theme (the main point) of your story. Then you can follow these steps:

Someone writing on sticky notes and in a notebook.

  • Once you identify the event, you will write down what happened. Just brainstorm (also called freewriting). Focus on the actual event. You do not need to provide a complete build-up to it. For example, if you are telling a story about an experience at camp, you do not need to provide readers with a history of my camp experiences, nor do you need to explain how you got there, what we ate each day, how long it lasted, etc. Readers need enough information to understand the event. So, you do not need to provide information about my entire summer if the event only lasts a couple of days.
  • Use descriptions/vivid details.
  • “Nothing moved but a pair of squirrels chasing each other back and forth on the telephone wires. I followed one in my sight. Finally, it stopped for a moment and I fired.”
  • The verbs are all in active voice creating a sense of immediacy: moved, followed, stopped, fired.
  • Passive voice uses the verb “to be” along with an action verb: had been aiming, was exhausted.
  • Develop your characters. Even though the “characters” in your story are real people, your readers won’t get to know them unless you describe them, present their personalities, and give them physical presence.
  • Use dialogue. Dialogue helps readers get to know the characters in your story, infuses the story with life, and offers a variation from description and explanation. When writing dialogue, you may not remember exactly what was said in the past, so be true to the person being represented and come as close to the actual language the person uses as possible. Dialogue is indented with each person speaking as its own paragraph. The paragraph ends when that person is done speaking and any following explanation or continuing action ends. (If your characters speak a language other than English, feel free to include that in your narrative, but provide a translation for your English-speaking readers.)
  • Be consistent in your point of view. Remember, if it is a personal narrative, you are telling the story, so it should be in first person. Students often worry about whether or not they are allowed to use “I.” It is impossible to write a personal essay without using “I”!
  • Write the story in a consistent verb tense (almost always past tense). It doesn’t work to try to write it in the present tense since it already happened. Make sure you stay in the past tense.

Sample Personal Statement

One type of narrative essay you may have reason to write is a Personal Statement.

Many colleges and universities ask for a Personal Statement Essay for students who are applying for admission, to transfer, or for scholarships.

Generally, a Personal Statement asks you to respond to a specific prompt, most often asking you to describe a significant life event, a personality trait, or a goal or principle that motivates or inspires you. Personal Statements are essentially narrative essays with a particular focus on the writer’s personal life.

The following essay was responding to the prompt: “Write about an experience that made you aware of a skill or strength you possess.” As you read, pay attention to the way the writer gets your attention with a strong opening, how he uses vivid details and a chronological narrative to tell his story, and how he links back to the prompt in the conclusion.

Sample Student Essay

Alen Abramyan Professor X English 1101-209 2/5/2013

In the Middle of Nowhere Fighting Adversity

A three-punch combination had me seeing stars. Blood started to rush down my nose. The Russian trainers quietly whispered to one another. I knew right away that my nose was broken. Was this the end of my journey; or was I about to face adversity?

Ever since I was seven years old, I trained myself in, “The Art of Boxing.” While most of the kids were out playing fun games and hanging out with their friends, I was in a damp, sweat-filled gym. My path was set to be a difficult one. Blood, sweat, and, tears were going to be an everyday occurrence.

At a very young age I learned the meaning of hard work and dedication. Most kids jumped from one activity to the next. Some quit because it was too hard; others quit because they were too bored. My father pointed this out to me on many occasions. Adults would ask my father, ” why do you let your son box? It’s such a dangerous sport, he could get hurt. My father always replied, “Everyone is going to get hurt in their lives, physically, mentally and emotionally. I’m making sure he’s ready for the challenges he’s going to face as a man. I always felt strong after hearing my father speak that way about me. I was a boy being shaped into a man, what a great feeling it was.

Year after year, I participated in boxing tournaments across the U.S. As the years went by, the work ethic and strength of character my father and coaches instilled in me, were starting to take shape. I began applying the hard work and dedication I learned in boxing, to my everyday life. I realized that when times were tough and challenges presented themselves, I wouldn’t back down, I would become stronger. This confidence I had in myself, gave me the strength to pursue my boxing career in Russia.

I traveled to Russia to compete in Amateur Boxing. Tournament after tournament I came closer to my goal of making the Russian Olympic Boxing team. After successfully winning the Kaliningrad regional tournament, I began training for the Northwest Championships. This would include boxers from St. Petersburg, Pskov, Kursk and many other powerful boxing cities.

We had to prepare for a tough tournament, and that’s what we did. While sparring one week before the tournament, I was caught by a strong punch combination to the nose. I knew right away it was serious. Blood began rushing down my face, as I noticed the coaches whispering to each other. They walked into my corner and examined my nose,” yeah, it’s broken,” Yuri Ivonovich yelled out. I was asked to clean up and to meet them in their office. I walked into the Boxing Federation office after a quick shower. I knew right away, they wanted to replace me for the upcoming tournament. “We’re investing a lot of money on you boxers and we expect good results. Why should we risk taking you with a broken nose?” Yuri Ivonovich asked me. I replied, “I traveled half-way around the world to be here, this injury isn’t a problem for me.” And by the look on my face they were convinced, they handed me my train ticket and wished me luck.

The train came to a screeching halt, shaking all the passengers awake. I glanced out my window, “Welcome to Cherepovets,” the sign read. In the background I saw a horrific skyline of smokestacks, coughing out thick black smoke. Arriving in the city, we went straight to the weigh ins. Hundreds of boxers, all from many cities were there. The brackets were set up shortly after the weigh ins. In the Super Heavyweight division, I found out I had 4 fights to compete in, each increasing in difficulty. My first match, I made sure not a punch would land; this was true for the next two fights. Winning all three 6-0, 8-0 and 7-0 respectively. It looked like I was close to winning the whole tournament. For the finals I was to fight the National Olympic Hope Champion.

The night before the finals was coincidentally the 200th anniversary of the city. All night by my hotel, I heard screams of laughter and partying. I couldn’t sleep a wink. The morning of the fight I was exhausted but anxious. I stepped into the ring knowing that I was tired. I fell behind in points quickly in the first round. I felt as if I were dreaming, with no control of the situation. I was going along for the ride and it wasn’t pleasant. At the end of the second round, the coach informed me that I was far behind. “?You’re asleep in there,” he yelled out to me, confirming how I felt. I knew this was my last chance; I had to give it my all. I mustered up enough strength to have an amazing round. It was as if I stepped out and a fresh boxer stepped in. I glanced at my coaches and see a look of approval. No matter the outcome, I felt that I had defeated adversity. My opponent’s hand was raised , he won a close decision, 6-5. After I got back to my hotel, I remembered Yuri Ivonovich telling me they expected good results. “How were my results,” I asked myself. In my mind, the results were great, with a broken nose and with no sleep, I came one point shy of defeating the National Olympic Hope Champion.

Even from a very young age, I knew that when my back was against the wall and adversity was knocking on my door, I would never back down. I became a stronger person, a trait my family made sure I would carry into my adult years. No matter what I’m striving for; getting into a University; receiving a scholarship; or applying for a job, I can proudly say to myself, I am Alen Abramyan and adversity is no match for me.

Link to Learning

Sandra Cisneros offers an example of a narrative essay in “Only Daughter” that captures her sense of her Chicana-Mexican heritage as the only daughter in a family of seven children.

Do Personal Essays have Thesis Statements?

While many personal essays include a direct statement of the thesis, in some personal essays the thesis may be implied rather than stated outright.

Imagine, for example, that in your personal essay you decide to write about the way someone influenced you. The influential individual could be a relative, a friend or classmate, an employer or a teacher. As you shape your essay, you would not simply assemble a collection of miscellaneous observations about the person; instead, you would be selective and focus on details about this person that show his or her impact upon you.

Let us say that the person who influenced you is a grandparent. You may know a lot about this individual: personality traits, family and marital history, medical history, educational background, work experience, military experience, political and religious beliefs, hobbies, tastes in music, etc. But as you shape your essay about how this individual affected you, you wouldn’t try to catalog all that you know. Instead, you would try to create a dominant impression by including details that guide your reader toward the idea that is central to the essay.

For example, if you developed certain habits and attitudes as you and your grandparent worked together on a project, that experience might provide the focus for the essay. If you chose details consistent with that focus, then you wouldn’t need to state that this was the point of the essay. Your readers would understand that that was the governing idea based on the details you had so carefully chosen.

Whether the thesis is stated outright or implied, then, the personal essay will have a governing idea—an idea that is “in charge” of what you decide to include in the essay in terms of content, vocabulary, sentence structure, and tone. In short, the personal essay may not have a thesis statement, but it will have a thesis.

Consider a personal essay in which a student was asked to write about a person she admired, and she wrote about her cousin. She wrote:

  • I admired my cousin’s decision to enlist because she had to withstand criticism from people who thought women shouldn’t be in the army and because in basic training she had to stand up to physical and mental challenges that I don’t think I could face.

The thesis statement provides quite a lot of guidance for both writing and reading the essay. Writer and reader are equally able to see what the subject of the essay is and what is being stated about the subject, and both writer and reader can see how the essay should be organized. No matter how many body paragraphs there are, this thesis implies that the paper will be divided into two sections. One section will group together the paragraphs on this topic: cousin “had to withstand criticism from people who thought women shouldn’t be in the army.” Another section will group together the paragraphs on this second topic: “in basic training she had to stand up to physical and mental challenges.”

Are Narratives Persuasive?

In a personal essay, you may not think of your thesis as “arguable” in the same way as a claim in a persuasive essay would be arguable, but in fact, you can think of it as something that should need to be demonstrated—backed up through explanations and illustrations. Usually, the idea that should be demonstrated is that you are a thoughtful, reflective person who has learned from the events and people in your life.

If the thesis does not need to be demonstrated, then there may not be much purpose in writing the essay. For, example, a statement that “George W. Bush was the forty-third president” or the statement that “Senior proms are exciting” would not be considered arguable by most people and likely would not spark a reader’s interest and make them want to keep reading.

On the other hand, the thesis statements below would need to be explained and illustrated. In that sense, these personal essay thesis statements are equivalent to claims that are “arguable.”

  • The evening was nearly ruined because parents acting as dress-code vigilantes threw several people out of the prom.
  • My team spent hours planning the prom and managed to head off a repeat of the after-prom drinking that caused some parents to question whether the prom should be held this year.
  • Everyone was able to attend the prom proudly because our prom committee got several stores to loan outfits to make certain everyone would feel like they fit in.
  • I opted to attend an alternative prom because the principal refused to allow a same-sex couple to attend.

Keep in mind that the actions or events in your essay do not have to make you look heroic. You could write a convincing and powerful essay about how you attended the school-sponsored prom, even though the principal refused to allow a same-sex couple to attend. Your essay, in this case, might, for example, focus on your regret over your decision and your subsequent understanding of how you think you can best challenge the status quo in the future. In other words, you can write an effective personal essay about a moment of regret.

When writing a personal essay for an application of some kind (scholarship, internship, graduate school), remember that the ultimate purpose of the essay is to make you, the essay writer and applicant, look good. That doesn’t mean that you need to describe you doing great things. If your personal essay is all about your grandfather and what an amazing role model and person he was, you still need to think about how your essay can make you (and not just your grandfather) look good. One way to make yourself look good is to make clear that you are a thoughtful, reflective person (and someone smart enough to learn from a man like your grandfather).

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  • Narrative Essay. Provided by : Excelsior OWL. Located at : . License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Narrative Essays. Authored by : Marianne Botos, Lynn McClelland, Stephanie Polliard, Pamela Osback . Located at : . Project : Horse of a Different Color: English Composition and Rhetoric . License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Sample Narrative Essay. Provided by : Georgia State University. Located at : Project : Writing For Success. License : CC BY: Attribution
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How to Write a Personal Essay

Last Updated: February 2, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Jake Adams . Jake Adams is an academic tutor and the owner of Simplifi EDU, a Santa Monica, California based online tutoring business offering learning resources and online tutors for academic subjects K-College, SAT & ACT prep, and college admissions applications. With over 14 years of professional tutoring experience, Jake is dedicated to providing his clients the very best online tutoring experience and access to a network of excellent undergraduate and graduate-level tutors from top colleges all over the nation. Jake holds a BS in International Business and Marketing from Pepperdine University. There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 310,207 times.

A good personal essay can move and inspire readers. It can also leave the reader unsettled, uncertain, and full of more questions than answers. To write an effective personal essay, you will need to first understand the structure of a personal essay. You will then need to brainstorm ideas for the personal essay so you are ready when it is time to sit down and craft your essay.

Starting Your Personal Essay

Step 1 Find an angle for your essay.

  • For example, maybe you want to write about an experience where you learned about failure. You may think the time you failed a pop quiz in class. Though the quiz may have seemed insignificant to you at the time, you realized later that failing the pop quiz forced you to reassess your goals and motivated you to get a passing grade. Seen from a certain angle, your small failure became a gateway to perseverance and determination.

Jake Adams

  • This could be a seemingly small moment that ended up having a profound influence on you later, such the first time you experienced disgust as a child or the look on your mother’s face when you told her you were gay. Try to really dig into why you were hurt or compelled to overcome a challenge in this moment in your essay.
  • Remember that moments charged with strong emotion will often be more engaging to readers. Having a strong reaction to a specific moment will allow you to write passionately about it and keep your reader interested in your essay.

Step 3 Discuss a specific event that triggered an emotional response.

  • For example, you may focus on the day you found out your father cheated on your mother, or the week you mourned the death of a loved one. Think about a heavy experience in your life that shaped who you are today.
  • You may also decide to write about a seemingly light topic or event, such as your first ride on a roller coaster, or the first time you went on a cruise with your partner. No matter what event you choose, make sure it is an event that triggered a strong emotional response, ranging from anger to confusion to unabashed joy.

Step 4 Think of a person in your life that you have difficulty with in some way.

  • For example, you may think about why you and your mother stopped speaking years ago or why you are no longer close to a childhood friend. You may also look at past romantic relationships that failed and consider why they did not succeed or a relationship with a mentor that went sour.
  • This could also be about someone that you're close with. For example, you could write about a moment that tested your relationship with a close friend.

Step 5 Respond to a current event.

  • Ask yourself questions about the current event. For example, how does the current event intersect with your own experiences? How can you explore a current social issue or event using your personal thoughts, experiences, and emotions?
  • For example, you may have an interest in writing about Syrian refugee camps in Europe. You may then focus your personal essay on your own status as a refugee in America and how your experiences a refugee have shaped the person you are now. This will allow you to explore a current event from a personal perspective, rather than simply talk about the current event from a distant, journalistic perspective.

Step 6 Create an outline.

  • The introductory section should include “the hook”, opening lines where you catch the reader’s attention. It should also have some sort of narrative thesis, which is often the beginning of an important event in the piece or a theme that connects your experience to a universal idea.
  • The body sections should include supporting evidence for your narrative thesis and/or the key themes in your piece. Often, this is in the form of your experiences and your reflections on your experiences. You should also note the passage of time in your body sections so the reader is aware of when and how certain events occurred.
  • The concluding section should include a conclusion to the events and experiences discussed in the essay. You should also have a moral of the story moment, where you reflect on what you learned from your experiences or how your experiences changed your life.
  • In the past, it was advised to have five paragraphs total, one paragraph for the introductory section, three paragraphs for the body section, and one paragraph for the concluding section. But you can have more or less than five paragraphs for your personal essay as long as you have all three sections.

Writing the Personal Essay

Step 1 Begin with an engaging opening scene.

  • Don't begin with a line that explains exactly what is going to be discussed in, such as, “In this essay, I will be discussing my fraught relationship with my mother." Instead, draw your reader into your piece and still provide all the information needed in your opening line.
  • Start instead with a specific scene that contains the key characters of the essay and allows you discuss the central question or theme. Doing this will allow you to introduce the reader to the characters and the central conflict right away.
  • For example, if you are writing about your fraught relationship with your mother, you may focus on a specific memory where you both disagreed or clashed. This could be the time you and your mother fought over a seemingly insignificant item, or the time you argued about a family secret.
  • Try to use an active voice instead of a passive voice as much as possible when you're writing your essay.

Step 2 Write from your unique voice or perspective.

  • This writing voice may be conversational, much like how you might speak to a good friend or a family member. Or, the writing voice may be more reflective and internal, where you question your own assumptions and thoughts about the subject of the essay.
  • Many personal essays are written in the first person, using “I”. You may decide to write in the present tense to make the story feel immediate, or past tense, which will allow you to reflect more on specific events or moments.
  • Include vivid sensory descriptions in your essay to help the reader connect with your unique perspective. Describing touch, smell, taste, sight, and sound can help the reader invest in your story and feel like they're there with you.

Step 3 Develop the characters so they are well-rounded and detailed.

  • You can also include lines of dialogue spoken by your characters, based on your memory of the event. However, you should limit dialogue to only a few lines a page, as too much dialogue can start to veer away from personal essay and more toward fiction.

Step 4 Include plot in your essay.

  • You may use a plot outline to organize your essay. The plot points should act as supporting evidence for the central question or issue of the essay.

Step 5 Focus on uncovering a deeper truth.

  • It’s important to remember that though an experience may appear to have all the drama necessary to make a good personal essay, it may be a drama that is too familiar to the reader already. Be wary of experiences that are familiar and filled with pathos that a reader may have experienced before.
  • If you are writing about the sudden death of a loved one, for example, it may feel important and deep to you. But the reader will likely know what to expect of an essay about a dead loved one, and may not relate to your essay because they did not know the loved one like you did.
  • Instead, you may try to uncover a truth that is deeper than “I am sad my loved one died.” Think about what the loved one meant to you and how the loved one affected your life, in positive and negative ways. This could lead to the uncovering of a deeper truth and a stronger personal essay.

Polishing Your Essay

Step 1 Try out different literary techniques and forms.

  • For example, you may use metaphor to describe the experience of telling your mother you are gay. You may describe your mother’s face as “impenetrable, a sudden wall”. Or you may use a simile, such as “my mother’s reaction was silent and stunned, as if she had been struck by lightning.”

Step 2 Read the essay out loud.

  • As you read it out loud, you should highlight any sentences that are confusing or unclear as well as sentences that do not appear as strong as the rest of the draft. You should also make sure your characters are well developed and your essay follows some kind of structure or sense of plot. Consider if you are hitting a deeper truth in your draft and what you can do to get there if it is not yet on the page.Revising your essay will only make it that much stronger.

Step 3 Proofread and revise the essay.

  • When you are revising, you should consider if your content is really worth writing about, if you are writing about a topic or subject you are passionate about, and if your reader will understand your writing. You want to avoid confusing your reader, as this can turn her off from reading to the end of your essay.
  • You should also make sure the focus and themes of the essay are clear. Your experiences should center around a central question, issue, or theme. This will ensure your personal essay is well written and concise.
  • Avoid relying on spellcheck to catch all of the spelling and grammar errors in your essay.

Expert Q&A

Jake Adams

  • To get a better sense of the genre, you should read highly crafted examples of personal essay. There are several known personal essays that are often taught in academia, including "Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin, “The Death of a Moth” by Virginia Woolf, “Shipping Out” by David Foster Wallace, “The White Album” by Joan Didion, and “We Do Abortions Here” by Sallie Tisdale. Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0
  • Ask yourself several questions as you read the examples, such as: How does the writer introduce the subject of their essay? How does the writer explore the subject for a personal perspective? What are the key themes in the essay? How does the writer connect their personal experiences to a universal theme or idea? How does the writer use humor or wit in the essay? What is the concluding moral of the essay? Does the end of the essay leave you satisfied, unsettled, curious, or all of the above? Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0

Sample Essay and Template

personal essay in creative writing

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Write a Personal Narrative

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About This Article

Jake Adams

To write a personal essay, start by deciding on an experience that affected your life in some way, such as how failing a pop quiz in class made you change your goals. Next, draft an outline containing the points you want to make, and including an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. When writing, start your essay with an engaging scene that introduces the characters and main theme, then develop the characters in the body section so they're well-rounded. Conclude by summing up what you learned from the experience. For tips on how to include a plot in your essay and how to proofread your work, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

personal essay in creative writing

What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?

How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Start early.  Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
  • Keep the focus narrow.  Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
  • Be yourself.  Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
  • Be creative.  “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
  • Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.

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Where your work meets your life. See more from Ascend here .

We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.

  • AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business,  All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including  Pine Row Press ,  Months to Years,  and  Atlanta Review .

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10 Personal Narrative Examples to Inspire Your Writing

Personal narratives are short pieces of creative nonfiction that recount a story from someone’s own experiences. They can be a memoir, a thinkpiece, or even a polemic — so long as the piece is grounded in the writer's beliefs and experiences, it can be considered a personal narrative.

Despite the nonfiction element, there’s no single way to approach this topic, and you can be as creative as you would be writing fiction. To inspire your writing and reveal the sheer diversity of this type of essay, here are ten great examples personal narratives from recent years: 

1. “Only Disconnect” by Gary Shteyngart

personal essay in creative writing

Personal narratives don’t have to be long to be effective, as this thousand-word gem from the NYT book review proves. Published in 2010, just as smartphones were becoming a ubiquitous part of modern life, this piece echoes many of our fears surrounding technology and how it often distances us from reality.

In this narrative, Shteyngart navigates Manhattan using his new iPhone—or more accurately, is led by his iPhone, completely oblivious to the world around him. He’s completely lost to the magical happenstance of the city as he “follow[s] the arrow taco-ward”. But once he leaves for the country, and abandons the convenience of a cell phone connection, the real world comes rushing back in and he remembers what he’s been missing out on. 

The downfalls of technology is hardly a new topic, but Shteyngart’s story remains evergreen because of how our culture has only spiraled further down the rabbit hole of technology addiction in the intervening years.

What can you learn from this piece?

Just because a piece of writing is technically nonfiction, that doesn’t mean that the narrative needs to be literal. Shteyngart imagines a Manhattan that physically changes around him when he’s using his iPhone, becoming an almost unrecognizable world. From this, we can see how a certain amount of dramatization can increase the impact of your message—even if that wasn’t exactly the way something happened. 



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2. “Why I Hate Mother's Day” by Anne Lamott

The author of the classic writing text Bird by Bird digs into her views on motherhood in this piece from Salon. At once a personal narrative and a cultural commentary, Lamott explores the harmful effects that Mother’s Day may have on society —how its blind reverence to the concept of motherhood erases women’s agency and freedom to be flawed human beings. 

Lamott points out that not all mothers are good, not everyone has a living mother to celebrate, and some mothers have lost their children, so have no one to celebrate with them. More importantly, she notes how this Hallmark holiday erases all the people who helped raise a woman, a long chain of mothers and fathers, friends and found family, who enable her to become a mother. While it isn’t anchored to a single story or event (like many classic personal narratives), Lamott’s exploration of her opinions creates a story about a culture that puts mothers on an impossible pedestal. 

In a personal narrative essay, lived experience can be almost as valid as peer-reviewed research—so long as you avoid making unfounded assumptions. While some might point out that this is merely an opinion piece, Lamott cannily starts the essay by grounding it in the personal, revealing how she did not raise her son to celebrate Mother’s Day. This detail, however small, invites the reader into her private life and frames this essay as a story about her —and not just an exercise in being contrary.

3. “The Crane Wife” by CJ Hauser 

Days after breaking off her engagement with her fiance, CJ Hauser joins a scientific expedition on the Texas coast r esearching whooping cranes . In this new environment, she reflects on the toxic relationship she left and how she found herself in this situation. She pulls together many seemingly disparate threads, using the expedition and the Japanese myth of the crane wife as a metaphor for her struggles. 

Hauser’s interactions with the other volunteer researchers expand the scope of the narrative from her own mind, reminding her of the compassion she lacked in her relationship. In her attempts to make herself smaller, less needy, to please her fiance, she lost sight of herself and almost signed up to live someone else’s life, but among the whooping cranes of Texas, she takes the first step in reconnecting with herself.

With short personal narratives, there isn’t as much room to develop characters as you might have in a memoir so the details you do provide need to be clear and specific. Each of the volunteer researchers on Hauser’s expedition are distinct and recognizable though Hauser is economical in her descriptions. 

For example, Hauser describes one researcher as “an eighty-four-year-old bachelor from Minnesota. He could not do most of the physical activities required by the trip, but had been on ninety-five Earthwatch expeditions, including this one once before. Warren liked birds okay. What Warren really loved was cocktail hour.” 

In a few sentences, we get a clear picture of Warren's fun-loving, gregarious personality and how he fits in with the rest of the group.


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In 10 days, learn to develop complex characters readers will love.

4. “The Trash Heap Has Spoken” by Carmen Maria Machado

The films and TV shows of the 80s and 90s—cultural touchstones that practically raised a generation—hardly ever featured larger women on screen. And if they did, it was either as a villain or a literal trash heap. Carmen Maria Machado grew up watching these cartoons, and the absence of fat women didn’t faze her. Not until puberty hit and she went from a skinny kid to a fuller-figured teen. Suddenly uncomfortable in her skin, she struggled to find any positive representation in her favorite media.

As she gets older and more comfortable in her own body, Machado finds inspiration in Marjory the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock and Ursula, everyone’s favorite sea witch from The Little Mermaid —characters with endless power in the unapologetic ways they inhabit their bodies. As Machado considers her own body through the years, it’s these characters she returns to as she faces society’s unkind, dismissive attitudes towards fat women.

Stories shape the world, even if they’re fictional. Some writers strive for realism, reflecting the world back on itself in all its ugliness, but Carmen Maria Machado makes a different point. There is power in being imaginative and writing the world as it could be, imagining something bigger, better, and more beautiful. So, write the story you want to see, change the narrative, look at it sideways, and show your readers how the world could look. 

5. “Am I Disabled?” by Joanne Limburg 

The titular question frames the narrative of Joanne Limburg’s essay as she considers the implications of disclosing her autism. What to some might seem a mundane occurrence—ticking ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘prefer not to say’ on a bureaucratic form—elicits both philosophical and practical questions for Limburg about what it means to be disabled and how disability is viewed by the majority of society. 

Is the labor of disclosing her autism worth the insensitive questions she has to answer? What definition are people seeking, exactly? Will anyone believe her if she says yes? As she dissects the question of what disability is, she explores the very real personal effects this has on her life and those of other disabled people. 

Limburg’s essay is written in a style known as the hermit crab essay , when an author uses an existing document form to contain their story. You can format your writing as a recipe, a job application, a resume, an email, or a to-do list – the possibilities are as endless as your creativity. The format you choose is important, though. It should connect in some way to the story you’re telling and add something to the reader’s experience as well as your overall theme. 



Literary Devices Cheatsheet

Master these 40+ devices to level up your writing skills.

6. “Living Like Weasels” by Annie Dillard

personal essay in creative writing

While out on a walk in the woods behind her house, Annie Dillard encounters a wild weasel. In the short moment when they make eye contact, Dillard takes an imaginary journey through the weasel’s mind and wonders if the weasel’s approach to life is better than her own. 

The weasel, as Dillard sees it, is a wild creature with jaws so powerful that when it clamps on to something, it won’t let go, even into death. Necessity drives it to be like this, and humanity, obsessed with choice, might think this kind of life is limiting, but the writer believes otherwise. The weasel’s necessity is the ultimate freedom, as long as you can find the right sort, the kind that will have you holding on for dear life and refusing to let go. 

Make yourself the National Geographic explorer of your backyard or neighborhood and see what you can learn about yourself from what you discover. Annie Dillard, queen of the natural personal essay, discovers a lot about herself and her beliefs when meeting a weasel.

What insight can you glean from a blade of grass, for example? Does it remind you that despite how similar people might be, we are all unique? Do the flights of migrating birds give you perspective on the changes in your own life? Nature is a potent and never-ending spring of inspiration if you only think to look. 


Show, Don't Tell

Master the golden rule of writing in 10 five-minute lessons.

7. “Love In Our Seventies” by Ellery Akers

“ And sometimes, when I lift the gray hair at the back of your neck and kiss your shoulder, I think, This is it.”

In under 400 words, poet Ellery Akers captures the joy she has found in discovering romance as a 75-year-old . The language is romantic, but her imagery is far from saccharine as she describes their daily life and the various states in which they’ve seen each other: in their pajamas, after cataract surgeries, while meditating. In each singular moment, Akers sees something she loves, underscoring an oft-forgotten truth. Love is most potent in its smallest gestures.  

Personal narrative isn’t a defined genre with rigid rules, so your essay doesn’t have to be an essay. It can be a poem, as Akers’ is. The limitations of this form can lead to greater creativity as you’re trying to find a short yet evocative way to tell a story. It allows you to focus deeply on the emotions behind an idea and create an intimate connection with your reader. 

8. “What a Black Woman Wishes Her Adoptive White Parents Knew” by Mariama Lockington

personal essay in creative writing

Mariama Lockington was adopted by her white parents in the early 80s, long before it was “trendy” for white people to adopt black children. Starting with a family photograph, the writer explores her complex feelings about her upbringing , the many ways her parents ignored her race for their own comfort, and how she came to feel like an outsider in her own home. In describing her childhood snapshots, she takes the reader from infancy to adulthood as she navigates trying to live as a black woman in a white family. 

Lockington takes us on a journey through her life through a series of vignettes. These small, important moments serve as a framing device, intertwining to create a larger narrative about race, family, and belonging. 

With this framing device, it’s easy to imagine Lockington poring over a photo album, each picture conjuring a different memory and infusing her story with equal parts sadness, regret, and nostalgia. You can create a similar effect by separating your narrative into different songs to create an album or episodes in a TV show. A unique structure can add an extra layer to your narrative and enhance the overall story.

9. “Drinking Chai to Savannah” by Anjali Enjeti

On a trip to Savannah with her friends, Anjali Enjeti is reminded of a racist incident she experienced as a teenager . The memory is prompted by her discomfort of traveling in Georgia as a South Asian woman and her friends’ seeming obliviousness to how others view them. As she recalls the tense and traumatic encounter she had in line at a Wendy’s and the worry she experiences in Savannah, Enjeti reflects on her understanding of otherness and race in America. 

Enjeti paints the scene in Wendy’s with a deft hand. Using descriptive language, she invokes the five senses to capture the stress and fear she felt when the men in line behind her were hurling racist sentiments. 

She writes, “He moves closer. His shadow eclipses mine. His hot, tobacco-tinged breath seeps over the collar of my dress.” The strong, evocative language she uses brings the reader into the scene and has them experience the same anxiety she does, understanding why this incident deeply impacted her. 

10. “Siri Tells A Joke” by Debra Gwartney

One day, Debra Gwartney asks Siri—her iPhone’s digital assistant—to tell her a joke. In reply, Siri recites a joke with a familiar setup about three men stuck on a desert island. When the punchline comes, Gwartney reacts not with laughter, but with a memory of her husband , who had died less than six months prior.

In a short period, Gwartney goes through a series of losses—first, her house and her husband’s writing archives to a wildfire, and only a month after, her husband. As she reflects on death and the grief of those left behind in the wake of it, she recounts the months leading up to her husband’s passing and the interminable stretch after as she tries to find a way to live without him even as she longs for him. 

A joke about three men on a deserted island seems like an odd setup for an essay about grief. However, Gwartney uses it to great effect, coming back to it later in the story and giving it greater meaning. By the end of her piece, she recontextualizes the joke, the original punchline suddenly becoming deeply sad. In taking something seemingly unrelated and calling back to it later, the essay’s message about grief and love becomes even more powerful.

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Telling the Story of Yourself: 6 Steps to Writing Personal Narratives

Jennifer Xue

Jennifer Xue

writing personal narratives

Table of Contents

Why do we write personal narratives, 6 guidelines for writing personal narrative essays, inspiring personal narratives, examples of personal narrative essays, tell your story.

First off, you might be wondering: what is a personal narrative? In short, personal narratives are stories we tell about ourselves that focus on our growth, lessons learned, and reflections on our experiences.

From stories about inspirational figures we heard as children to any essay, article, or exercise where we're asked to express opinions on a situation, thing, or individual—personal narratives are everywhere.

According to Psychology Today, personal narratives allow authors to feel and release pains, while savouring moments of strength and resilience. Such emotions provide an avenue for both authors and readers to connect while supporting healing in the process.

That all sounds great. But when it comes to putting the words down on paper, we often end up with a list of experiences and no real structure to tie them together.

In this article, we'll discuss what a personal narrative essay is further, learn the 6 steps to writing one, and look at some examples of great personal narratives.

As readers, we're fascinated by memoirs, autobiographies, and long-form personal narrative articles, as they provide a glimpse into the authors' thought processes, ideas, and feelings. But you don't have to be writing your whole life story to create a personal narrative.

You might be a student writing an admissions essay , or be trying to tell your professional story in a cover letter. Regardless of your purpose, your narrative will focus on personal growth, reflections, and lessons.

Personal narratives help us connect with other people's stories due to their easy-to-digest format and because humans are empathising creatures.

We can better understand how others feel and think when we were told stories that allow us to see the world from their perspectives. The author's "I think" and "I feel" instantaneously become ours, as the brain doesn't know whether what we read is real or imaginary.

In her best-selling book Wired for Story, Lisa Cron explains that the human brain craves tales as it's hard-wired through evolution to learn what happens next. Since the brain doesn't know whether what you are reading is actual or not, we can register the moral of the story cognitively and affectively.

In academia, a narrative essay tells a story which is experiential, anecdotal, or personal. It allows the author to creatively express their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and opinions. Its length can be anywhere from a few paragraphs to hundreds of pages.

Outside of academia, personal narratives are known as a form of journalism or non-fiction works called "narrative journalism." Even highly prestigious publications like the New York Times and Time magazine have sections dedicated to personal narratives. The New Yorke is a magazine dedicated solely to this genre.

The New York Times holds personal narrative essay contests. The winners are selected because they:

had a clear narrative arc with a conflict and a main character who changed in some way. They artfully balanced the action of the story with reflection on what it meant to the writer. They took risks, like including dialogue or playing with punctuation, sentence structure and word choice to develop a strong voice. And, perhaps most important, they focused on a specific moment or theme – a conversation, a trip to the mall, a speech tournament, a hospital visit – instead of trying to sum up the writer’s life in 600 words.

In a nutshell, a personal narrative can cover any reflective and contemplative subject with a strong voice and a unique perspective, including uncommon private values. It's written in first person and the story encompasses a specific moment in time worthy of a discussion.

Writing a personal narrative essay involves both objectivity and subjectivity. You'll need to be objective enough to recognise the importance of an event or a situation to explore and write about. On the other hand, you must be subjective enough to inject private thoughts and feelings to make your point.

With personal narratives, you are both the muse and the creator – you have control over how your story is told. However, like any other type of writing, it comes with guidelines.

1. Write Your Personal Narrative as a Story

As a story, it must include an introduction, characters, plot, setting, climax, anti-climax (if any), and conclusion. Another way to approach it is by structuring it with an introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction should set the tone, while the body should focus on the key point(s) you want to get across. The conclusion can tell the reader what lessons you have learned from the story you've just told.

2. Give Your Personal Narrative a Clear Purpose

Your narrative essay should reflect your unique perspective on life. This is a lot harder than it sounds. You need to establish your perspective, the key things you want your reader to take away, and your tone of voice. It's a good idea to have a set purpose in mind for the narrative before you start writing.

Let's say you want to write about how you manage depression without taking any medicine. This could go in any number of ways, but isolating a purpose will help you focus your writing and choose which stories to tell. Are you advocating for a holistic approach, or do you want to describe your emotional experience for people thinking of trying it?

Having this focus will allow you to put your own unique take on what you did (and didn't do, if applicable), what changed you, and the lessons learned along the way.

3. Show, Don't Tell

It's a narration, so the narrative should show readers what happened, instead of telling them. As well as being a storyteller, the author should take part as one of the characters. Keep this in mind when writing, as the way you shape your perspective can have a big impact on how your reader sees your overarching plot. Don't slip into just explaining everything that happened because it happened to you. Show your reader with action.

dialogue tags

You can check for instances of telling rather than showing with ProWritingAid. For example, instead of:

"You never let me do anything!" I cried disdainfully.
"You never let me do anything!" To this day, my mother swears that the glare I levelled at her as I spat those words out could have soured milk.

Using ProWritingAid will help you find these instances in your manuscript and edit them without spending hours trawling through your work yourself.

4. Use "I," But Don't Overuse It

You, the author, take ownership of the story, so the first person pronoun "I" is used throughout. However, you shouldn't overuse it, as it'd make it sound too self-centred and redundant.

ProWritingAid can also help you here – the Style Report will tell you if you've started too many sentences with "I", and show you how to introduce more variation in your writing.

5. Pay Attention to Tenses

Tense is key to understanding. Personal narratives mostly tell the story of events that happened in the past, so many authors choose to use the past tense. This helps separate out your current, narrating voice and your past self who you are narrating. If you're writing in the present tense, make sure that you keep it consistent throughout.

tenses in narratives

6. Make Your Conclusion Satisfying

Satisfy your readers by giving them an unforgettable closing scene. The body of the narration should build up the plot to climax. This doesn't have to be something incredible or shocking, just something that helps give an interesting take on your story.

The takeaways or the lessons learned should be written without lecturing. Whenever possible, continue to show rather than tell. Don't say what you learned, narrate what you do differently now. This will help the moral of your story shine through without being too preachy.

GoodReads is a great starting point for selecting read-worthy personal narrative books. Here are five of my favourites.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen, the author of 386 books, wrote this poetic story about a daughter and her father who went owling. Instead of learning about owls, Yolen invites readers to contemplate the meaning of gentleness and hope.

Night by Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel was a teenager when he and his family were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. This Holocaust memoir has a strong message that such horrific events should never be repeated.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

This classic is a must-read by young and old alike. It's a remarkable diary by a 13-year-old Jewish girl who hid inside a secret annexe of an old building during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in 1942.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

This is a personal narrative written by a brave author renowned for her clarity, passion, and honesty. Didion shares how in December 2003, she lost her husband of 40 years to a massive heart attack and dealt with the acute illness of her only daughter. She speaks about grief, memories, illness, and hope.

Educated by Tara Westover

Author Tara Westover was raised by survivalist parents. She didn't go to school until 17 years of age, which later took her to Harvard and Cambridge. It's a story about the struggle for quest for knowledge and self-reinvention.

Narrative and personal narrative journalism are gaining more popularity these days. You can find distinguished personal narratives all over the web.

Curating the best of the best of personal narratives and narrative essays from all over the web. Some are award-winning articles.


Long-form writing to celebrate humanity through storytelling. It publishes personal narrative essays written to provoke, inspire, and reflect, touching lesser-known and overlooked subjects.

Narrative Magazine

It publishes non,fiction narratives, poetry, and fiction. Among its contributors is Frank Conroy, the author of Stop-Time , a memoir that has never been out of print since 1967.

Thought Catalog

Aimed at Generation Z, it publishes personal narrative essays on self-improvement, family, friendship, romance, and others.

Personal narratives will continue to be popular as our brains are wired for stories. We love reading about others and telling stories of ourselves, as they bring satisfaction and a better understanding of the world around us.

Personal narratives make us better humans. Enjoy telling yours!

personal essay in creative writing

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Love writing? ProWritingAid will help you improve the style, strength, and clarity of your stories.

Jennifer Xue is an award-winning e-book author with 2,500+ articles and 100+ e-books/reports published under her belt. She also taught 50+ college-level essay and paper writing classes. Her byline has appeared in Forbes, Fortune, Cosmopolitan, Esquire,, Business2Community, Addicted2Success, Good Men Project, and others. Her blog is Follow her on Twitter @jenxuewrites].

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Write authentic, well-crafted personal essays in this creative nonfiction course.

If you have a story to tell, if you’re fairly confessional and believe that truth is stranger than fiction, then the creative nonfiction, personal essay writing class is for you.

Creative nonfiction and personal essay are powerhouses in the story-telling genre. They’re the volcanic marriage of real life and literary technique, and a chance to deliver our stories with sass, color and voice. By using a variety of techniques such as dialogue, scene, detail and narrative, creative non-fiction and personal essay breathe new life into the ordinary telling of our tales.

Anything is fodder for creative nonfiction; the fight you had with the supermarket check-out person, the time your brother ran you over with his bike, your first real kiss and the lessons you learned about yourself when you stopped to give change to the corner panhandler. By delving into our experiences we squeeze the marrow from our lives and explore our emotional territory, sharing and making meaning out of the ordinary events in our lives.

The ten-week class will focus on finding your voice and locating the heart of your story, as well as finding creative ways to tell these stories, edit what we have, and familiarize ourselves with non-fiction markets. There will be a weekly writing assignment, a chance to post each week and get in-depth, detailed feedback from your peers as well as feedback on five of your stories from Gretchen.

Gretchen was wonderful—positive, understanding, and helpful. She clearly put a lot of time into reading and responding to our work, and I am so thankful for that! —Kathryn Martinak

Introduction to Creative Nonfiction and Personal Writing: Course Syllabus

Each week a new writing lesson is posted and students are given a couple of assignment options as well as a deadline to turn a piece in each week. Writing lessons cover the territory of personal essay with an emphasis on voice, detail, scene, dialogue and resolve.

What is creative nonfiction and the personal essay? Personal essay is about uncovering the truth and telling our stories in our real voices. Creative Nonfiction uses elements of fiction in the telling of a true story. We use narrative combined with live voice to make the writing more melodic, more alive and more accessible.

Beginning our stories. What are we obsessed by and deeply interested in? What are the stories we must tell? Using free writing to unearth raw, unedited material and honing with diversity, melody and voice.

Week Three:

Using memories and images that burn to be told. Using the material from our lives, from our childhood to jump start story and delve in deeply.

Re-working our assignments.

 Week Five:

The stories we’re afraid to tell. Writing as liberation. What aren’t we writing about? Using the hardest parts of our lives as material for story because that’s where the energy is. When we write from these places our stories come alive because we’re writing from an edge.

Truth or Fiction? How creative can the personal essay be? How much can we bend the truth? Where do the boundaries blur?

Week Seven:

 week eight:.

Speaking to the dead. Who lingers in our lives and what kind of power do they hold for us? Choosing friends or relatives to write about, using their stories to tell our larger stories.

 Week Nine

Critiquing the personal essay. How can we help each other tell the truth better? Setting a stage: what stays and what goes? Using the elements that are intrinsic to the telling of the story.

To market to market. Where to sell our work? Ideas and suggestions for where the writers can send their work.

Why Take a Creative Nonfiction and Personal Essay Course with

  • We welcome writers of all backgrounds and experience levels, and we are here for one reason: to support you on your writing journey.
  • Small groups keep our online writing classes lively and intimate.
  • Work through your weekly written lectures, course materials, and writing assignments at your own pace.
  • Share and discuss your work with classmates in a supportive class environment.
  • Award-winning instructor Gretchen Clark will offer you direct, personal feedback and suggestions on every assignment you submit.

Dive into creative nonfiction and the craft of the personal essay. Reserve your spot today!

Student feedback for gretchen clark:.

Definitely very happy with class content. Gretchen's critiques are so, so helpful. I liked the way Gretchen set up the class so that we were able to choose from many options for our assignments. We could revise an essay or write a new one. As a teacher, Gretchen is like chocolate cake with two scoops of vanilla ice cream. Can't get enough of her. I would take any class Gretchen offered. Caroline Commins

Gretchen was wonderful—positive, understanding, and helpful without being negative or overly critical. Her comments were insightful and extremely helpful to me. She clearly put a lot of time into reading and responding to our work, and I am SO thankful for that! Kathryn Martinak

This course helped me expand my understanding of what an essay can be, and encouraged me to push myself to try different forms of expression. I learned a lot from my fellow students and the instructor and received excellent feedback on my writing. I learned so much from Gretchen's lectures as well as from her comments, not only on my writing but on my fellow students' writings as well.  Elizabeth Speziale

Gretchen was great. I have taken over a dozen online writing courses and this one was almost calming. Instead of feeling like I 'had' to submit work for critique, I not only wanted to, but I was anxious to read the other writers' work.  Barbara Reidmiller

Gretchen seems to have a way of seeing things in my writing that I overlook; a series of details, a recurring theme, an underlying emotion I have yet to discover within myself. Her critiques are always thoughtful and thought provoking. She takes the time to read and respond carefully, challenging ideas and questioning my writing while encouraging and offering support. When I was looking for more personal and in-depth editorial critique, it was and Gretchen that I turned to. Having taken the Personal Essay class, I knew that she would grant me the time and attention that I was seeking. She seems to have unlimited patience to answer questions and hash out ideas. Working one-on-one with her has provided me with a forum and a conversation about my writing. She is an invaluable teacher and editor.

 I learned a lot and had fun doing it. We were encouraged to think and write outside the box. It made me more creative. Loved the experience.  Svetlana Dietz

Gretchen has great ideas and gives coaching feedback as well as praise. It was exciting to learn about new forms in essay writing and how the form can help carry the story. The group of writers was helpful and positive in providing feedback to each others; I really enjoyed the experience of the community.  Karen McCall

I was recently offered my own bi-monthly column in Blue Water Sailing magazine. and private time working with Gretchen has certainly contributed to my work improving enough to be given that opportunity. Heather Francis,

Gretchen was extremely diligent with her feedback and it felt like nothing I wrote went unnoticed. She took the pains to respond equally diligently even with the re-posted material. Her feedback made me want to write more. Mannu Kohli

I thought Gretchen was great. Despite having a lot of people in the class, I always felt that she gave full attention to her feedback on my submissions. She was always quite responsive to questions I had. I really liked her lectures and her suggested materials, I found all of those quite helpful.  Allison Allen

I loved this course. Gretchen provided me with really helpful feedback and I appreciate how open she was to discussing the works in progress. I wrote ten pieces I want to keep working with and submit to journals, and want to keep playing with the form. I definitely got my money's worth and am happy with the progress I made in the course overall as a writer. Nicole Breit

Do you have a couple hours? Because that is how long it would take me to sing Gretchen's praises. Every piece she has helped me with, let's make that six, has been accepted for publication. All told, actually, I've received 11 acceptances within a relatively short time span for a writer who has just recently begun to submit her work. ... It isn't just that Gretchen is a gifted writer and teacher/editor, she possesses unusual insight. She reads with many eyes, ears, and hearts and on many different levels. She is present to the reading like a psychoanalyst is present to her patient's free associations: unbiased, unattached, letting herself be moved or struck by anything and everything. ... And she is patient and kind and even when her suggestions maddened me because they forced me to think and feel myself more deeply into my story, she was, 98% of the time, right on. ... What more can I say. I just love working with Gretchen! Pat Heim

Though Gretchen included specific assignments with each week's lecture...they were given to us as suggestions and for inspiration, but we were always free to go off on our own and write whatever caught our imaginations that week. I was also very pleasantly surprised at the high level of talent among my classmates in this course. ... Your classes allow every student to write and post something each week, not simply once or twice during the course, as other classes do. Elaine Kehoe

I thought the lectures were thoughtful and inspiring and I liked that the assignments were flexible in that I could write about anything that I wanted, but Gretchen gave us prompts for if we needed some ideas. I also liked that she provided some optional readings and referenced other books on writing, I ended up doing a lot of outside reading which was very helpful. I did feel like I learned a lot..... Gretchen was excellent. Her positive tone was just the thing to keep students in the class encouraged and motivated. She was also very willing to answer any questions students had and seemed to tailor her critique to what students were asking for, which was wonderful. Overall I felt that she was approachable and was there if I wanted to ask anything. McKenzie Long

I've taken several other on-line writing classes with other schools and this unique approach was the most interesting and challenging of all. I thought the teachers were the freshest and most thorough in the time they put into their critiques. I totally enjoyed the class. I would do something unique with these teachers again. Eve Bandler

I was very happy with both the class content and the teacher. Gretchen’s comments on my essays were insightful; she offered suggestions that I would not have thought of on my own. This was my first online writing class, and I will take another. Thank you so much! Kim Baumgaertel

Gretchen's writing and her lessons are superb and she's a great teacher. I learned a ton from her. I had never heard of the lyric essay before. Gretchen gave me a thorough understanding of it - and lots of practice. Bonnie Gold

Gretchen was great, and always available for questions/clarification. I am definitely driven by challenge, and felt that Gretchen has a good way of keeping you on your toes and helping you to consistently improve. Lessons were inspiring and assignments perfect for challenging the creative side of the brain. An advanced lyric class would be awesome! I would recommend the class to anyone interested in writing. I have signed up for several classes through November. Jenifer Patureau

I loved the class. The Lyric Essay is/was/and shall continue to be a favorte of mine now that I've taken this class. The freedom to manipulate material in new ways, soak words with lyric structure, really came through. Feedback was personal and always offered ways to take a piece to another level. Rewrites were encouraged and feedback was prompt and insighful. Keep those new classes coming so I can continue to write on your site for many years to come. Joanna Johns

This course is terrific. The lessons are creative and inspiring--just look at the lecture titles! Gretchen is smart, kind, and encouraging. Her critiques are full of insight and ideas for taking the writer a step or many steps further. I keep recommending when I talk w/ friends. I'll be back for another class. Marge Osborn

Creative, inspiring, motivating, delightful, fun. <Gretchen's> lessons were written with so much imagination and creative juice. It just made you rub your hands together and want to dive in. She was encouraging as well. I have considered taking *this* class again! Tatyana Sussex

Gretchen's class was really great!The Lyric Essay was one of the best courses I've taken from I would like to take a "Lyric Essay 2" course. Caroline Commins

The class was wonderful. Couldn't have had better teachers. Wonderful about letting us veer in our own directions at times. They provided a very nurturing environment for everyone. ... Their comments were very helpful and clearly they know their stuff. ... I would absolutely take another class from either instructor. I can't give them a glowing enough review. ... This is the way you dream a class will work. David Ladd

This was my first online course, and I'm very glad I took it. I feel that the tuition was money well-spent and I emerge from this experience wiser about the subject and very much encouraged to continue my writing using techniques I learned in class. Jean Dutton

“Gretchen was wonderful—positive, understanding, and helpful without being negative or overly critical. Her comments were insightful and extremely helpful to me. She clearly put a lot of time into reading and responding to our work, and I am SO thankful for that!” —Kathryn Martinak

personal essay in creative writing

About Gretchen Clark

Gretchen Clark has been a freelancer for an online naming company and a creative arts mentor for at-risk teens. Her essay Pink Chrysanthemum  was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.  Her work has been published in The Boston Globe, Hamilton Stone Review, 94 Creations, Writer Advice, Literary Mama , Hip Mama , Flashquake , Blood Lotus , Foliate Oak , Skirt! , Word Riot , Quiet Mountain Essays , 34th Parallel , New York Family Magazine , Pithead Chapel , Switchback , Underwired , Toasted Cheese , Celia’s Roundtrip , Brevity , River Teeth , Flashquake , Tiny Lights , Ray's Road Review , Cleaver Magazine,   Hippocampus , The MacGuffin, Awakenings Review, and Nailpolish Stories, among others.

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Student Opinion

650 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing

personal essay in creative writing

By Michael Gonchar

  • Oct. 20, 2016

Update, Sept. 4, 2019: Check out our newest evergreen collection of “ 550 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing ” that includes dozens of new prompts.

Update, Feb. 15, 2019: Learn more about how to use our 1000s of writing prompts by watching our free on-demand webinar: “ Give Them Something to Write About: Teach Across the Curriculum With New York Times-Inspired Daily Prompts. ”

Every school day since 2009 we’ve asked students a question based on an article in The New York Times.

Now, seven years later, and in honor of the Oct. 20 National Day on Writing , we’ve collected 650 of them that invite narrative and personal writing and listed them by category below. Consider it an update of a previous post, and a companion to the list of 301 argumentative writing prompts we published in 2015.

Here is a PDF of all 650 prompts , and we also have a related lesson plan, From ‘Lives’ to ‘Modern Love’: Writing Personal Essays With Help From The New York Times .

Below, a list that touches on everything from sports to travel, education, gender roles, video games, fashion, family, pop culture, social media and more. Like all our Student Opinion questions , each links to a related Times article and includes a series of follow-up questions. All questions published since May 2015 are still open to comment by any student 13 or older.

So dive into this admittedly overwhelming list and pick the questions that most inspire you to tell an interesting story, describe a memorable event, observe the details in your world, imagine a possibility, or reflect on who you are and what you believe.

Overcoming Adversity

1. What Challenges Have You Overcome? 2. What Are Your Secret Survival Strategies? 3. What Do You Do When You Encounter Obstacles to Success? 4. When Have You Failed? What Did You Learn From It? 5. When Have You Ever Succeeded When You Thought You Might Fail? 6. What Life Lessons Has Adversity Taught You? 7. What Work Went Into Reaching Your Most Difficult Goals? 8. How Often Do You Leave Your ‘Comfort Zone’? 9. When Was the Last Time You Did Something That Scared or Challenged You? 10. What Are You Afraid Of? 11. What Are Your Fears and Phobias? 12. What Are Your Personal Superstitions? 13. Do You Like Being Alone? 14. How Often Do You Cry? 15. Do You Ever Feel Overlooked and Underappreciated? 16. How Have You Handled Being the ‘New Kid’? 17. How Do You Deal With Haters? 18. How Do You React When Provoked? 19. What Role Does Stress Play in Your Life? 20. Does Stress Affect Your Ability to Make Good Decisions? 21. How Do You Relieve Stress? 22. How Do You Find Peace in Your Life? 23. Does Your Life Leave You Enough Time to Relax? 24. Do You Set Rules for Yourself About How You Use Your Time? 25. Is ‘Doing Nothing’ a Good Use of Your Time? 26. What Did You Once Hate but Now Like? 27. What Kind of Feedback Helps You Improve? 28. Is Trying Too Hard to Be Happy Making You Sad? 29. Do Adults Who Are ‘Only Trying to Help’ Sometimes Make Things Worse?

Your Personality

30. What Is Your Personal Credo? 31. What Motivates You? 32. What Makes You Happy? 33. What Are You Good At? 34. When in Your Life Have You Been a Leader? 35. How Well Do You Perform Under Pressure? 36. How Well Do You Take Criticism? 37. Are You Hard or Easy on Yourself? 38. How Full Is Your Glass? 39. Do You Have a Hard Time Making Decisions? 40. How Much Self-Control Do You Have? 41. How Good Are You at Waiting for What You Really Want? 42. What Role Does Procrastination Play in Your Life? 43. How Good Are You at Time Management? 44. How Productive and Organized Are You? 45. Under What Conditions Do You Do Your Best Work? 46. How Do You Express Yourself Creatively? 47. Are You a Good Listener? 48. How Competitive Are You? 49. Do You Perform Better When You’re Competing or When You’re Collaborating? 50. How Emotionally Intelligent Are You? 51. Do You Take More Risks When You Are Around Your Friends? 52. Do You Unknowingly Submit to Peer Pressure? 53. Do You Think You’re Brave? 54. How Much of a Daredevil Are You? 55. What Pranks, Jokes, Hoaxes or Tricks Have You Ever Fallen For or Perpetrated? 56. How Impulsive Are You? 57. Are You a Novelty-Seeker? 58. How Do You Deal With Boredom? 59. What Annoys You? 60. Do You Apologize Too Much? 61. Do You Have Good Manners? 62. How Materialistic Are You? 63. Are You a Saver or a Tosser? 64. Are You a Hoarder or a Minimalist? 65. Are You an Introvert or an Extrovert? 66. Are You Popular, Quirky or Conformist? 67. Are You a Nerd or a Geek? 68. What Would Your Personal Mascot Be? 69. What Assumptions Do People Make About You? 70. How Good Are You at Saying Goodbye?

Role Models

71. Who Is Your Role Model? 72. Who Inspires You? 73. Who Are the People – Famous or Not – You Admire Most? 74. Who Are Your Heroes? 75. What Heroic Acts Have You Performed or Witnessed? 76. What’s the Best Advice You’ve Gotten? 77. What Are Some ‘Words of Wisdom’ That Guide Your Life? 78. Who Outside Your Family Has Made a Difference in Your Life? 79. If You Had Your Own Talk Show, Whom Would You Want to Interview? 80. To Whom, or What, Would You Like to Write a Thank-You Note? 81. What Leader Would You Invite to Speak at Your School? 82. What Six People, Living or Dead, Would You Invite to Dinner? 83. Who’s Your ‘Outsider Role Model’?

84. Who Is Your Family? 85. How Do You Define ‘Family’? 86. What Have You and Your Family Accomplished Together? 87. What Events Have Brought You Closer to Your Family? 88. What’s Your Role in Your Family? 89. Have You Ever Changed a Family Member’s Mind? 90. How Well Do You Get Along With Your Siblings? 91. What Are Your Family Stories of Sacrifice? 92. What Possessions Does Your Family Treasure? 93. What Hobbies Have Been Passed Down in Your Family? 94. What’s the Story Behind Your Name? 95. What Are Your Favorite Names? 96. How Have You Paid Tribute to Loved Ones? 97. What Do You Know About Your Family’s History? 98. Did Your Parents Have a Life Before They Had Kids? 99. What Family Traditions Do You Want to Carry On When You Get Older?

Parents & Parenting

100. How Close Are You to Your Parents? 101. How Are You and Your Parents Alike and Different? 102. How Much Freedom Have Your Parents Given You? 103. How Permissive Are Your Parents? 104. Do You Have Helicopter Parents? 105. How Do Your Parents Teach You to Behave? 106. How Do You Make Parenting Difficult for Your Parents? 107. How Often Do You Fight With Your Parents? 108. What Advice Would You Give to Your Mom, Dad or Guardian on How to Be a Better Parent? 109. Is Your Family Stressed, Tired and Rushed? 110. Do Your Parents Try Too Hard to Be Cool? 111. Do You Ever Feel Embarrassed by Your Parents? 112. Do Your Parents Support Your Learning? 113. Do You Talk About Report Cards With Your Parents? 114. Do You Want Your Parents to Stop Asking You ‘How Was School?’ 115. How Much Do Your Parents Help With Your Homework? 116. How Has Your Family Helped or Hindered Your Transition to a New School? 117. Have Your Parents and Teachers Given You Room to Create?

Your Neighborhood

118. How Much Does Your Neighborhood Define Who You Are? 119. What’s Special About Your Hometown? 120. What Marketing Slogan Would You Use for Your Town or City? 121. What Would You Name Your Neighborhood? 122. Who Are the ‘Characters’ That Make Your Town Interesting? 123. Who Is the ‘Mayor’ of Your School or Neighborhood? 124. What Would a TV Show About Your Town Spoof? 125. What ‘Urban Legends’ Are There About Places in Your Area? 126. Do You Know Your Way Around Your City or Town? 127. How Well Do You Know Your Neighbors? 128. What Is Your Favorite Place? 129. What’s Your Favorite Neighborhood Joint? 130. What Is Your Favorite Street? 131. Do You Hang Out in the Park? 132. How Much Time Do You Spend in Nature? 133. What Small Things Have You Seen and Taken Note Of Today? 134. What Buildings Do You Love? What Buildings Do You Hate? 135. What Are the Sounds That Make Up the Background Noise in Your Life? 136. What Sounds Annoy You? 137. What Public Behavior Annoys You Most? 138. Have You Ever Interacted With the Police? 139. What Local Problems Do You Think Your Mayor Should Try to Solve? 140. What Ideas Do You Have for Enhancing Your Community? 141. Where Do You Think You Will Live When You Are an Adult? 142. Would You Most Want to Live in a City, a Suburb or the Country?

143. Is Your Bedroom a Nightmare? 144. What is Your Favorite Place in Your House? 145. How Important Is Keeping a Clean House? 146. Do You Need to De-Clutter Your Life? 147. Do You Plan on Saving Any of Your Belongings for the Future? 148. With Your Home in Danger, What Would You Try to Save? 149. What Would You Grab in a Fire? 150. What Would You Put in Your Emergency ‘Go-Bag’? 151. Who Lived Long Ago Where You Live Now? 152. What Would Your Dream Home Be Like?

Childhood Memories

153. What Was Your Most Precious Childhood Possession? 154. What Objects Tell the Story of Your Life? 155. What Do You Collect? 156. What Were Your Favorite Childhood Shows and Characters? 157. Do You Have Childhood Memories of Being Read Aloud To? 158. What Were Your Favorite Picture Books When You Were Little? 159. What Things Did You Create When You Were a Child? 160. What Places Do You Remember Fondly From Childhood? 161. What Food or Flavor Do You Remember Tasting for the First Time? 162. What Do You Wish You Could See, Hear, Read or Experience for the First Time All Over Again? 163. Have You Ever Felt Embarrassed by Things You Used to Like? 164. Do You Wish You Could Return to Moments From Your Past? 165. Was There a Toy You Wanted as a Child but Never Got? 166. What’s the Best Gift You’ve Ever Given or Received? 167. What’s the Most Memorable Thing You Ever Got in the Mail? 168. Have You Ever Lost (or Found) Something Valuable? 169. What Nicknames Have You Ever Gotten or Given? 170. What Are Your Best Sleepover Memories? 171. What Old, Worn Out Thing Can You Just Not Part With? 172. What Is Your Most Prized Possession?

173. What Have You Learned in Your Teens? 174. What Do You Remember Best About Being 12? 175. What Personal Achievements Make You Proud? 176. What Are Some Recent Moments of Happiness in Your Life? 177. What Rites of Passage Have You Participated In? 178. What Are You Grateful For? 179. What Advice Would You Give Younger Kids About Middle or High School? 180. What Have You Learned From Older People? 181. What Can Older People Learn From Your Generation? 182. What Do Older Generations Misunderstand About Yours? 183. Do You Recognize Yourself in Descriptions of ‘Generation Z’?

184. What Ethical Dilemmas Have You Faced? 185. Have You Ever Had to Make a Sacrifice to Help Someone You Care About? 186. Have You Ever Donated Your Time, Talents, Possessions or Money to Support Anyone in Need? 187. When Is the Last Time You Did Something Nice for a Stranger? 188. Have You Ever ‘Paid It Forward’? 189. How Trustworthy Are You? 190. How Comfortable Are You With Lying? 191. When Do You Lie? 192. Have You Ever Lied to Your Parents or Done Something Behind Their Backs? 193. If You Drink or Use Drugs, Do Your Parents Know? 194. Have You Ever Taken Something You Weren’t Supposed To? 195. Do You Ever Eavesdrop? 196. How Much Do You Gossip?

Religion & Spirituality

197. What Is the Role of Religion or Spirituality in Your Life? 198. How Important Is Your Spiritual Life? 199. Do You Believe That Everything Happens for a Reason? 200. How Much Control Do You Think You Have Over Your Fate? 201. Can You Be Good Without God? 202. Are You Less Religious Than Your Parents? 203. Can You Pass a Basic Religion Test? 204. What Can You Learn From Other Religions?

Gender & Sexuality

205. How Do Male and Female Roles Differ in Your Family? 206. Do Parents Have Different Hopes and Standards for Their Sons Than for Their Daughters? 207. How Do Your Parents Share the Responsibilities of Parenting? 208. Is There Too Much Pressure on Girls to Have ‘Perfect’ Bodies? 209. How Much Pressure Do Boys Face to Have the Perfect Body? 210. How Did You Learn About Sex? 211. What Experiences Have You Had With Gender Bias in School? 212. What Have Been Your Experiences With Catcalling or Other Kinds of Street Harassment? 213. What Does it Mean to Be ‘a Real Man’? 214. Do You Consider Yourself a Feminist? 215. What Does Feminism Mean to You?

Race & Ethnicity

216. What Is Your Racial and Ethnic Identity? 217. Have You Ever Tried to Hide Your Racial or Ethnic Identity? 218. How Often Do You Interact With People of Another Race or Ethnicity? 219. Do You Ever Talk About Issues of Race and Class With Your Friends? 220. Is Your Generation Really ‘Postracial’? 221. What’s the Racial Makeup of Your School? 222. Does Your School Seem Integrated? 223. Have You Experienced Racism or Other Kinds of Discrimination in School?

Money & Social Class

224. What Are Your Attitudes Toward Money? 225. Are You a Saver or a Spender? 226. What Have Your Parents Taught You About Money? 227. Do You Expect Your Parents to Give You Money? 228. How Important a Role Has Money, Work or Social Class Played in Your Life? 229. Do You See Great Disparities of Wealth in Your Community? 230. Can Money Buy You Happiness? 231. What Are the Best Things in Life and Are They Free?

232. Are You Distracted by Technology? 233. Are You Distracted by Your Phone? 234. Are You ‘Addicted’ to Texting? 235. Do You Always Have Your Phone or Tablet at Your Side? 236. Do Screens Get in the Way of the Rest of Your Life? 237. Do You Experience FOMO When You Unplug? 238. Does Your Digital Life Have Side Effects? 239. Do You Spend Too Much Time on Smartphones Playing ‘Stupid Games’? 240. Do Apps Help You or Just Waste Your Time? 241. What Tech Tools Play the Biggest Role in Your Life? 242. What New Technologies or Tech Toys Are You Most Excited About? 243. To What Piece of Technology Would You Write a ‘Love Letter’?

The Internet

244. What’s So Great About YouTube? 245. What Has YouTube Taught You? 246. What Are Your Favorite Viral Videos? 247. What Are Your Favorite Internet Spoofs? 248. What Would You Teach the World in an Online Video? 249. Do You Ever Seek Advice on the Internet? 250. Would You Share an Embarrassing Story Online? 251. How Do You Know if What You Read Online Is True? 252. What Are Your Experiences With Internet-Based Urban Legends? 253. How Much Do You Trust Online Reviews? 254. How Do You Use Wikipedia? 255. How Careful Are You Online? 256. What Story Does Your Personal Data Tell? 257. Do You Worry About the Lack of Anonymity in the Digital Age? 258. Would You Mind if Your Parents Blogged About You? 259. Do You Wish You Had More Privacy Online? 260. Have You Ever Been Scammed? 261. Whom Would You Share Your Passwords With?

Social Media

262. How Do You Use Facebook? 263. What Is Your Facebook Persona? 264. How Real Are You on Social Media? 265. What Memorable Experiences Have You Had on Facebook? 266. Does Facebook Ever Make You Feel Bad? 267. Would You Consider Deleting Your Facebook Account? 268. Do You Have ‘Instagram Envy’? 269. Do You Use Twitter? 270. Why Do You Share Photos? 271. How Do You Archive Your Life? 272. Have You Ever Posted, Emailed or Texted Something You Wish You Could Take Back? 273. Have You Ever Sent an Odd Message Because of Auto-Correct? 274. Would You Want Your Photo or Video to Go Viral? 275. Do You Worry Colleges or Employers Might Read Your Social Media Posts Someday? 276. What Advice Do You Have for Younger Kids About Navigating Social Media?

277. What Are You Listening To? 278. What Songs Are on Your Favorite Playlist? 279. What Musicians or Bands Mean the Most to You? 280. What Music Inspires You? 281. Who in Your Life Introduces You to New Music? 282. How Much Is Your Taste in Music Based on What Your Friends Like? 283. What Role Does Hip-Hop Play in Your Life? 284. Which Pop Music Stars Fascinate You? 285. Who Is Your Favorite Pop Diva? 286. What’s Your Karaoke Song? 287. Which Artists Would You Like to See Team Up? 288. How Closely Do You Listen to Lyrics? 289. What Are Your Earliest Memories of Music?

290. What Are the Best Things You’ve Watched, Read, Heard or Played This Year? 291. What Are Your TV Habits? 292. Do Your Television Viewing Habits Include ‘Binge-Watching’? 293. What Role Does Television Play in Your Life and the Life of Your Family? 294. What Television Shows Have Mattered to You? 295. How Often Do You Watch a Television Show When It Originally Airs? 296. Have You Fallen Into ‘Friends’ or Any Other Older Television Shows? 297. What Old Television Shows Would You Bring Back? 298. Why Do We Like Reality Shows So Much? 299. What Ideas Do You Have for a Reality Show? 300. What Reality TV Show Would You Want to Be a Guest Star On? 301. What Are Your Favorite Cartoons? 302. What Are Your Favorite Commercials? 303. How Much Are You Influenced by Advertising?

Movies & Theater

304. What Are Your Favorite Movies Ever? 305. What Were the Best Movies You Saw in the Past Year? 306. What Movies Do You Watch, or Reference, Over and Over? 307. What Movies, Shows or Books Do You Wish Had Sequels, Spinoffs or New Episodes? 308. Do You Like Horror Movies? 309. What Is Your Favorite Comedy? 310. Who Are Your Favorite Movie Stars? 311. Would You Pay Extra for a 3-D Movie? 312. Where, and How, Do You Watch Movies? 313. What Are the Best Live Theatrical Performances You’ve Ever Seen? 314. Have You Ever Stumbled Upon a Cool Public Performance?

Video Games

315. What Are Your Favorite Video Games? 316. What Have You Learned Playing Video Games? 317. Do You Play Violent Video Games? 318. When Should You Feel Guilty for Killing Zombies? 319. Who Are Your Opponents in Online Gaming? 320. Do You Like Watching Other People Play Video Games? 321. How Excited Are You About the Possibilities of Virtual Reality?

Books & Reading

322. Read Any Good Books Lately? 323. What Are the Best Books You’ve Read This Year? 324. What Are Your Favorite Books and Authors? 325. What Are Your Favorite Young Adult Novels? 326. Do You Read for Pleasure? 327. What Memorable Poetry Have You Ever Read or Heard? 328. What Magazines Do You Read, and How Do You Read Them? 329. Do You Enjoy Reading Tabloid Gossip? 330. When Have You Seen Yourself and Your Life Reflected in a Book or Other Media? 331. Has a Book, Movie, Television Show, Song or Video Game Ever Inspired You to Do Something New? 332. Do You Prefer Your Children’s Book Characters Obedient or Contrary? 333. Do You Read E-Books? 334. Would You Trade Your Paper Books for Digital Versions? 335. To What Writer Would You Award a Prize?

336. Why Do You Write? 337. Are You a Good Storyteller? 338. What’s Your Favorite Joke? 339. Do You Keep a Diary or Journal? 340. Do You Have a Blog? 341. Do You Want to Write a Book? 342. When Do You Write by Hand? 343. Do You Write in Cursive? 344. Do You Write in Your Books? 345. What ‘Mundane Moments’ From Your Life Might Make Great Essay Material? 346. What Is Your Most Memorable Writing Assignment? 347. Do You Ever Write About Challenges You Face in Life?

348. What’s the Coolest Thing You’ve Ever Seen in a Museum? 349. What Are the Most Memorable Works of Visual Art You Have Seen? 350. What Are Your Favorite Works of Art? 351. How Important Is Arts Education? 352. What Has Arts Education Done For You?

Language & Speech

353. What Words Do You Hate? 354. What Words or Phrases Do You Think Are Overused? 355. How Much Slang Do You Use? What Are Your Favorite Words? 356. What Current Slang Words and Expressions Do You Think Will Endure? 357. Why Do So Many People Say ‘Like’ and ‘Totally’ All the Time? 358. Do You Say ‘Kind of, Sort of’ More Than You Realize? 359. How Much Do You Curse? 360. How Good Are You at Coming Up With Witty Comebacks? 361. When Did You Last Have a Great Conversation? 362. How Often Do You Have ‘Deep Discussions’? 363. Do You Wish Your Conversations Were Less Small Talk and More ‘Big Talk’? 364. When Do You Choose Making a Phone Call Over Sending a Text? 365. How Much Information Is ‘Too Much Information’? 366. Do You Sometimes ‘Hide’ Behind Irony? 367. How Good Is Your Grammar? 368. Do You Speak a Second, or Third, Language? 369. When Do You Remember Learning a New Word? 370. What Does Your Body Language Communicate?

371. Do You Like School? 372. Are You Stressed About School? 373. Are High School Students Being Worked Too Hard? 374. What Are You Really Learning at School? 375. What Are You Looking Forward To, or Dreading, This School Year? 376. Would You Want to Be Home-Schooled? 377. Would You Like to Take a Class Online? 378. Would You Rather Attend a Public or a Private High School? 379. How Much Does It Matter to You Which High School You Attend? 380. How Would You Grade Your School? 381. What Can Other Schools Learn — and Copy — From Your School? 382. What Would You Miss if You Left Your School? 383. Is Your School Day Too Short? 384. What Do You Hope to Get Out of High School?

Learning & Studying

385. Do You Have Too Much Homework? 386. Does Your Homework Help You Learn? 387. Do You Participate in Class? 388. What Is Your Best Subject? 389. What’s the Most Challenging Assignment You’ve Ever Had? 390. What Memorable Experiences Have You Had in Learning Science or Math? 391. Are You Afraid of Math? 392. Do We Need a Better Way to Teach Math? 393. What Are the Best Ways to Learn About History? 394. How Would You Do on a Civics Test? 395. Does Your School Offer Enough Opportunities to Learn Computer Programming? 396. Does Your School Value Students’ Digital Skills? 397. Do You Know How to Code? Would You Like to Learn? 398. What Career or Technical Classes Do You Wish Your School Offered? 399. What Was Your Favorite Field Trip? 400. What Are Your Best Tips for Studying? 401. Do You Use Study Guides? 402. Is Everything You’ve Been Taught About Study Habits Wrong? 403. What Would You Like to Have Memorized? 404. How Well Do You Think Standardized Tests Measure Your Abilities? 405. Do Your Test Scores Reflect How Good Your Teachers Are?

406. What Do You Wish Your Teachers Knew About You? 407. When Has a Teacher Inspired You? 408. What Teacher Would You Like to Thank? 409. What Makes a Good Teacher? 410. Have You Ever Been Humiliated by a Teacher? How Did it Affect You? 411. Have Your Teachers or Textbooks Ever Gotten It Wrong? 412. Do Your Teachers Use Technology Well? 413. Do You Have a Tutor?

School Life

414. How Do You Feel About Proms? 415. Do You Want to Be ‘Promposed’ To? 416. Is Prom Worth It? 417. What Role Do School Clubs and Teams Play in Your Life? 418. How Big a Problem Is Bullying or Cyberbullying in Your School or Community? 419. Would You Ever Go Through Hazing to Be Part of a Group? 420. Is Your School a ‘Party School’? 421. Have You Been To Parties That Have Gotten Out of Control? 422. How Common Is Drug Use in Your School? 423. Can Students at Your School Talk Openly About Their Mental Health Issues? 424. How Does Your School Deal With Students Who Misbehave? 425. Do You Know People Who Cheat on High-Stakes Tests? 426. How Much Does Your Life in School Intersect With Your Life Outside School? 427. Do You Ever ‘Mix It Up’ and Socialize With Different People at School? 428. What Fads Are You and Your Friends Into Right Now?

429. Where Do You Want to Go to College? 430. What Are Your Sources for Information About Colleges and Universities? 431. What Role Has Community College Played in Your Life or the Life of Someone You Know? 432. Is College Overrated? 433. How Much Do You Worry About Taking the SAT or ACT? 434. What Personal Essay Topic Would You Assign to College Applicants? 435. What Qualities Would You Look For in a College Roommate? 436. Would You Want to Take a Gap Year After High School? 437. What Makes a Graduation Ceremony Memorable?

Work & Careers

438. What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? 439. Do You Have a Life Calling? 440. What’s Your Dream Job? 441. What Are Your Longtime Interests or Passions? 442. Do You Think You Will Have a Career That You Love? 443. What Do You Want More From a Career: Happiness or Wealth? 444. What Investment Are You Willing to Make to Get Your Dream Job? 445. Would You Consider a Nontraditional Occupation? 446. Would You Rather Work From Home or in an Office? 447. Would You Want to Be a Teacher? 448. What Hidden Talents Might You Have? 449. What ‘Back-to-the-Land’ Skills Do You Have, or Wish You Had? 450. What Skill Could You Teach in Two Minutes? 451. What Have You Made Yourself? 452. Do You Have an Idea for a Business or App? 453. What Would You Create if You Had Funding? 454. How Did You Start Doing Something You Love? 455. Did You Ever Take a Break From Doing Something You Love? 456. What Have You Done to Earn Money? 457. Do You Have a Job? 458. Would You Quit if Your Values Did Not Match Your Employer’s? 459. What Do You Hope to Be Doing the Year After You Graduate From College? 460. Where Do You See Yourself in 10 Years?

461. Do You Have a Best Friend? 462. How Often Do You Spend One-on-One Time With Your Closest Friends? 463. How Do You Feel About Introducing Friends from Different Parts of Your Life? 464. Do You Find It Easier to Make New Friends Online or In Person? 465. How Good a Friend Are You? 466. How Have You Helped a Friend in a Time of Need? 467. Do You Like Your Friends? 468. Is Competitiveness an Obstacle to Making or Keeping Friendships? 469. How Should You Handle the End of a Friendship? 470. Have You Ever Felt Left Out?

471. Have You Ever Been in Love? 472. What Are the Most Meaningful Relationships in Your Life? 473. What Advice Would You Give to Somebody Who Just Started Dating? 474. Are You Allowed to Date? 475. Is Dating a Thing of the Past? 476. Is Hookup Culture Leaving Your Generation Unhappy and Unprepared for Love? 477. What Are the Basic ‘Rules’ for Handling Breakups? 478. What’s the Best Way to Get Over a Breakup? 479. What Are Your Beliefs About Marriage?

Sports & Games

480. What’s the Most Impressive Sports Moment You’ve Seen? 481. Who Are Your Sports Heroes? 482. What Sports Teams Do You Root For? 483. Does Being a Fan Help Define Who You Are? 484. How Far Would You Go to Express Loyalty to Your Favorite Teams? 485. Are You a Fair-Weather Fan? 486. When Has a Sports Team Most Disappointed You? 487. Do You Watch the Super Bowl? 488. What Fan Memorabilia Would You Pay Big Bucks For? 489. What Extreme Sports Interest You Most? 490. Why Do You Play Sports? 491. What Rules Would You Like to See Changed in Your Favorite Sports? 492. Do You Enjoy Playing Games or Solving Puzzles? 493. What Are Your Favorite Board Games? 494. What Are Your Favorite Games? 495. What Game Would You Like to Redesign?

496. Where in the World Would You Most Like to Travel? 497. What Is Your Fantasy Vacation? 498. What Would Your Fantasy Road Trip Be Like? 499. What Crazy Adventure Would You Want to Take? 500. What Local ‘Microadventures’ Would You Like to Go On? 501. What’s Your Perfect Family Vacation? 502. How Has Travel Affected You? 503. What Kind of Tourist Are You? 504. What Are the Best Souvenirs You’ve Ever Collected While Traveling? 505. What Famous Landmarks Have You Visited? 506. What’s the Coolest Thing You’ve Ever Seen in Nature? 507. How Much Do You Know About the Rest of the World? 508. Would You Like to Live in Another Country? 509. Would You Want to Be a Space Tourist? 510. If You Could Time-Travel, Where Would You Go?

Looks & Fashion

511. What Is Your All-Time Favorite Piece of Clothing? 512. Do You Have a Signature Clothing Item? 513. What’s Your Favorite T-Shirt? 514. Do You Care What You Wear? 515. Does What You Wear Say Anything About You as a Person? 516. What Does Your Hairstyle Say About You? 517. What’s on Your Fashion Shopping List? 518. How Far Would You Go for Fashion? 519. What Are the Hot Fashion Trends at Your School Right Now? 520. What Current Trends Annoy You? 521. Would You Ever Consider Getting a Tattoo? 522. What Are Your Opinions on Cosmetic Surgery? 523. Do Photoshopped Images Make You Feel Bad About Your Own Looks? 524. Have You Inherited Your Parents’ Attitudes Toward Their Looks? 525. Has Anyone Ever Said That You Look Like Someone Famous?

Exercise, Health & Sleep

526. Do You Like to Exercise? 527. Do You Get Enough Exercise? 528. How Has Exercise Changed Your Health, Your Body or Your Life? 529. How Much Do You Think About Your Weight? 530. How Often Do You Engage in ‘Fat Talk’? 531. Do You Pay Attention to Calorie Counts for Food? 532. Do You Pay Attention to Nutrition Labels on Food? 533. How Concerned Are You About Where Your Food Comes From? 534. Are Your Eating Habits Healthy? 535. Do You Eat Too Quickly? 536. What Are Your ‘Food Rules’? 537. What Are Your Healthy Habits? 538. What Health Tips Have Worked for You? 539. What Rules Do You Have for Staying Healthy? 540. How Careful Are You in the Sun? 541. What Are Your Sleep Habits? 542. How Much of a Priority Do You Make Sleep? 543. Do You Get Enough Sleep?

Meals & Food

544. What Are the Most Memorable Meals You’ve Ever Had? 545. What’s Your Favorite Holiday Food Memory? 546. What’s Your Comfort Food? 547. What Are Your Favorite Junk Foods? 548. What’s Your Favorite Candy? 549. What’s Your Favorite Sandwich? 550. Do You Prefer Your Tacos ‘Authentic’ or ‘Appropriated’? 551. What Food Would You Like to Judge in a Taste-Off? 552. Do You Cook? 553. What Would You Most Like to Learn to Cook or Bake? 554. What Messages About Food and Eating Have You Learned From Your Family? 555. How Often Does Your Family Eat Together? 556. What Are Your Favorite Restaurants? 557. What Restaurant Would You Most Like to Review? 558. What Do You Eat During the School Day? 559. Do You Eat Cafeteria Food? 560. Is School Lunch Really All That Bad?

Holidays & Seasons

561. How Do You Celebrate Your Birthday? 562. Will You Be Wearing a Halloween Costume This Year? 563. Do You Like Scary Movies and Books? 564. Do You Believe in Ghosts? 565. What Are Your Thanksgiving Traditions? 566. What Do You Look Forward to Most – and Least – During the Holiday Season? 567. What Are Your Tips for Enjoying the Holiday Season? 568. How Will You Spend the Holiday Break? 569. What Does Santa Claus Mean to You? 570. Do You Look Forward to New Year’s Eve? 571. Do You Make New Year’s Resolutions? 572. How Do You Fight the Winter Blues? 573. What Would You Do on a Snow Day? 574. What Are Your Experiences With Severe Weather? 575. How Do You Feel About Valentine’s Day? 576. How Do You Celebrate Spring? 577. What Would Your Fantasy Spring Break Be Like? 578. What Are You Looking Forward to This Summer? 579. What Would Your Ideal Summer Camp Be Like? 580. What Are Your Favorite Summer Hangouts? 581. What’s Your Favorite Summer Food? 582. What Is Your Favorite Summer Movie? 583. What’s on Your Summer Reading List? 584. Do You Have a Summer Job? 585. Do You Choose Summer Activities to Look Good on Applications? 586. What Are the Best Things You Did This Summer? 587. How Do You Prepare to Go Back to School? 588. How Can People Make the Most of Long Holiday Weekends? 589. What’s Your Sunday Routine?

590. What’s Your Favorite Store? 591. To What Company Would You Write a Letter of Complaint or Admiration? 592. To What Business Would You Like to Give Advice? 593. Do You Ever Hang Out at the Mall? 594. How Would You Make Over Your Mall? 595. Do You Shop at Locally Owned Businesses? 596. What Are the Best Things You’ve Acquired Secondhand?

Cars & Driving

597. How Important Is It to Have a Driver’s License? 598. Are You a Good Driver? 599. Do You Have a Dream Car? 600. Would You Like to Ride in a Car That Drives Itself?

Animals & Pets

601. What Are the Animals in Your Life? 602. What’s Your Relationship Like With Your Pet? 603. How Well Do You Know Your Pet? 604. What Are Your Thoughts on Cats? 605. Would You Want to Hang Out at a Cat Cafe? 606. Why Do We Love Watching Animal Videos So Much? 607. What Are Your Most Memorable Stories About Wildlife? 608. How Do You Feel About Zoos?

Environmental Issues

609. How Green Are You? 610. How Do You Try to Reduce Your Impact on the Environment? 611. Do You Ever Feel Guilty About What, or How Much, You Throw Away? 612. How Much Food Does Your Family Waste? 613. What Could You Live Without? 614. How Do You Celebrate Earth Day?

Politics & Beliefs

615. How Would You Like to Help Our World? 616. What Cause Would Get You Into the Streets? 617. Have Your Ever Taken Part in a Protest? 618. What Would You Risk Your Life For? 619. When Have You Spoken Out About Something You Felt Had to Change? 620. What Would You Invent to Make the World a Better Place? 621. Given Unlimited Resources, What Scientific or Medical Problem Would You Investigate? 622. What Organizations Do You Think People Should Give to This Holiday Season? 623. Do You Trust Your Government? 624. When You Are Old Enough to Vote, Will You? 625. Do You Consider Yourself a Republican, Democrat or Independent?

History & Current Events

626. What Event in the Past Do You Wish You Could Have Witnessed? 627. What Are the Most Important Changes, in Your Life and in the World, in the Last Decade? 628. What National or International Events That You Lived Through Do You Remember Best? 629. Why Should We Care About Events in Other Parts of the World? 630. What News Stories Are You Following? 631. How Do You Get Your News? 632. Is Your Online World Just a ‘Filter Bubble’ of People With the Same Opinions? 633. Do Your Friends on Social Media All Have the Same Political Opinions You Do?

634. What Would You Do if You Won the Lottery? 635. What Superpower Do You Wish You Had? 636. What Era Do You Wish You Had Lived In? 637. Would You Want to Be a Tween or Teen Star? 638. Would You Want to Be a Child Prodigy? 639. Would You Want to Grow Up in the Public Eye? 640. What Kind of Robot Would You Want? 641. What Would You Outsource if You Could? 642. What Would You Like to Learn on Your Own? 643. What Would You Be Willing to Wait in a Really Long Line For? 644. If You Were a Super Rich Philanthropist, What Causes Would You Support? 645. What Would You Do if You Were President? 646. What Famous Person Would You Like to Visit Your School? 647. Who Would Be the Ideal Celebrity Neighbor? 648. What Do You Want to Be Doing When You’re 80? 649. Do You Want to Live to 100? 650. What Do You Want Your Obituary to Say?

What Is a Personal Essay (Personal Statement)?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

  • An Introduction to Punctuation
  • Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
  • M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
  • B.A., English, State University of New York

A personal essay is a short work of autobiographical nonfiction characterized by a sense of intimacy and a conversational manner. Also called a personal statement . 

A type of creative nonfiction , the personal essay is "all over the map," according to Annie Dillard. "There's nothing you can't do with it. No subject matter is forbidden, no structure is prescribed. You get to make up your own form every time." ("To Fashion a Text," 1998) .

Examples of Personal Essays

  • An Apology for Idlers , by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • On Laziness , by Christopher Morley
  • Coney Island at Night, by James Huneker
  • New Year's Eve , by Charles Lamb
  • How It Feels to Be Colored Me , by Zora Neale Hurston
  • My Wood, by E.M. Forster
  • Two Ways of Seeing a River , by Mark Twain
  • What I Think and Feel at 25, by F. Scott Fitzgerald


  • The personal essay is one of the most common types of writing assignment--and not only in freshman composition courses. Many employers, as well as graduate and professional schools, will ask you to submit a personal essay (sometimes called a personal statement ) before even considering you for an interview. Being able to compose a coherent version of yourself in words is clearly an important skill.
  • What qualities does a personal essay reveal about you? Here are just a few:
  • Communication Skills How effective are your communication skills? Do you write clearly, concisely, and correctly? Note that many employers put communication skills at the top of the list of essential qualifications.
  • Critical Thinking Skills How fresh and imaginative are you in your thinking? Is your writing cluttered with cliches , or is it obvious that you have original ideas to contribute?
  • Maturity What specific lessons have you learned from experience, and are you ready to apply those lessons to the job or the academic program you're considering? Keep in mind that it's not enough to be able to recount a personal experience; you should be prepared to interpret it as well.
  • Self and Subject in Personal Essays "[W]here the familiar essay is characterized by its everyday subject matter, the personal essay is defined more by the personality of its writer, which takes precedence over the subject. On the other hand, the personal essayist does not place himself firmly in center stage, as does the autobiographical essayist; the autobiographical element of the personal essay is far less calculated..."
  • The Essayist's Persona "Personal essayists from Montaigne on have been fascinated with the changeableness and plasticity of the materials of human personality. Starting with self-description, they have realized they can never render all at once the entire complexity of a personality. So they have elected to follow an additive strategy, offering incomplete shards, one mask or persona after another: the eager, skeptical, amiable, tender, curmudgeonly, antic, somber. If 'we must remove the mask,' it is only to substitute another mask..."
  • The "Antigenre": An Alternative to Academic Prose "[T]he more personal essay offers an escape from the confines of academic prose . By using this antigenre form that in contemporary essays embodies multiple kinds of writing, many essayists in search of democracy find a freedom for expressing in their writings spontaneity, self-reflexivity, accessibility, and a rhetoric of sincerity."
  • Teaching the Personal Essay "Given the opportunity to speak their own authority as writers, given a turn in the conversation, students can claim their stories as primary source material and transform their experiences into evidence ..."
  • Essay Forms "Despite the anthologists' custom of presenting essays as 'models of organization ,' it is the loose structure or apparent shapelessness of the essay that is often stressed in standard definitions. . . . Samuel Johnson famously defined the essay as 'an irregular, indigested piece, not a regular and orderly performance.' And certainly, a number of essayists (Hazlitt and Emerson, for instance, after the fashion of Montaigne) are readily identifiable by the wayward or fragmentary nature of their explorations. Yet each of these writers observes certain distinctive organizing (or disorganizing) principles of his own, thus charting the ramble and shaping the form. As Jeanette Harris observes in Expressive Discourse , 'Even in the case of a personal essay , which may appear informal and loosely structured, the writer has crafted with care this very appearance of informality' (122).

Theresa Werner, "Personal Essay."  Encyclopedia of the Essay , ed. by Tracy Chevalier. Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997

E.B. White , Foreword to  Essays of E.B. White . Harper and Row, 1977

Cristina Kirklighter,  Traversing the Democratic Borders of the Essay . SUNY Press, 2002

Nancy Sommers, "Between the Drafts."  College Composition and Communication , February 1992

Richard F. Nordquist, "Voices of the Modern Essay." Dissertation University of Georgia, 1991

  • The Essay: History and Definition
  • What is a Familiar Essay in Composition?
  • What Does "Persona" Mean?
  • Definition and Examples of Formal Essays
  • exploratory essay
  • What Are the Different Types and Characteristics of Essays?
  • Periodical Essay Definition and Examples
  • What Is Colloquial Style or Language?
  • Definition and Examples of Humorous Essays
  • Compose a Narrative Essay or Personal Statement
  • Free Modifiers: Definition, Usage, and Examples
  • 6 Steps to Writing the Perfect Personal Essay
  • How to Write a Successful Personal Statement for Graduate School
  • Definition Examples of Collage Essays
  • Talking Together: An Introduction to Conversation Analysis
  • personal statement (essay)

Research and Personal Writing

Those drawn to the writing of personal essays and memoirs may eventually discover the need to do some research.

Those drawn to the writing of personal essays and memoirs may eventually discover the need to do some research. You may find that your memory can take you only so far: You may need to go back to the old neighborhood and walk around, talk to old-timers, read up on local history or pore through genealogical archives, housing deeds, census records.

There are other benefits to research, besides filling in the gaps of recollection. Sooner or later, you run out of traumas and triumphs to recount; you have chewed up the tastiest limbs of your life story, and research becomes an alternative to further self- cannibalization. It can also bring a broader significance to your personal story. Research inspires curiosity, helps you break out of self-absorption and understand that you are not the only one who has passed down this road. You begin to see your experience as part of a larger pattern, be it sociological, historical, psychological, anthropological, cultural, political or theological—disciplines useful in supplying new lenses to your private tale.

Let us say you grew up in a relatively new suburb. It might not be a bad idea to examine the factors in American society that fueled the postwar growth of suburbia: the Federal Highway Act, FHA loans, the utopian ethos of planned decentralization, the decay of urban downtowns, racism, white flight and so on. (This is pretty much the approach that D.J. Waldie took in his “Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir.”) Or maybe you witnessed your parents going through an ugly divorce: What insights can be gleaned from the writings of child psychiatrists about the ways that children adapt—or don’t—to such situations? Say your parents were immigrants who spoke a language other than English at home, and you grew up torn between two cultures: What do anthropologists say about this problem?

You may begin researching some technical field to provide a stronger answer to the question “Why should my little story count?” and then end up more interested in the area under study than in your personal narrative.You may find you are using your I-character as a guide to help the reader through abstruse material, rather than as the central focus. In other words, the proportion between self and world may shift in the process of researching. Or you may end up throwing out most of the research and just using a little bit as a spice to vary the prose palate. In most cases, however, research will assist you in conceptualizing more broadly the questions you would like to put to your experience.

Travel literature is one area where the two approaches comfortably merge. While doing extensive research on the countries through which they are traveling, the best travel writers, such as Robert Byron, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Ryszard Kapuściński and Bruce Chatwin, employ their I-characters to fetch adventures that can then be juicily related.

Scientists or doctors have an advantage over the rest of us in that they can convey the knowledge from their research with an easy authority. Hence, the appeal of such graceful literary savants as Oliver Sacks, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Selzer and Lewis Thomas. In my next lifetime, I hope to be a scientific scholar; but in the meantime, I give myself research assignments, sneaking off to the stacks whenever possible.

I was once asked to contribute a personal essay for an anthology about the Book of Genesis, by picking a Bible story and ruminating on it. I chose to write about a pair of incidents when Abraham, fearing for his life when approaching the border of a potentially hostile people, passes off his wife Sarah as his sister. I could have stayed home and merely reflected on it, but instead, I rushed off to the library to learn how the medieval rabbis and modern Biblical scholars interpreted this seemingly cowardly act by a patriarch. What I discovered (some rationalized his act, others disapproved) formed the basis of the first part of my essay. Then, I researched what Sigmund Freud and Karen Horney had to say about married couples devolving into sibling- like pairs; that became the second panel. Finally, I told the story of an incident that occurred during my first marriage, when we were traveling through Morocco. I hoped the personal vignette, which would have been inconclusive if recounted alone, would be enriched by the perspectives provided by Rambam, Adin Steinsaltz, Freud and Horney.

The main concern emerging writers have about the research process is how to know when to stop.You begin poking around a complex new field about which you know next to nothing—wine, say, or rugs, or nongovernmental organizations in Africa; you realize you could spend the rest of your life studying it, and you quickly become overwhelmed by its ever- expanding ramifications. Believe me, it does narrow eventually. After a few weeks at the library, on the Internet or in the field, you notice that the sources are telling you something you already know, and you grasp the major “schools of thought.” Here, the creative nonfiction writer can follow the journalists’ lead. Being trained generalists—quick studies who can opportunistically leap on intriguing vignettes and facts, give them a vivid twist and forget the rest—journalists know they don’t have to become specialists; they just have to absorb enough of the material under momentary scrutiny to file an interesting story. When researching, what you are looking for is the oddity that will spark your imagination, excite your love of paradox or humor.

There comes a time when you feel you have done enough research for your modest purposes and can begin to write. Now, you face a new dilemma: how to integrate the technical matter you have uncovered into your characteristic prose style. When I was writing “Waterfront,” I had to investigate a number of complex subjects: bridge engineering, marine biology, the anatomy of shipworms, public housing law. Each time I researched some new area, I was awed by the specialists’ expertise. I thought to myself: They know everything, and I know nothing—how can I pretend to explain it when their language is so persuasive? So I quoted them, but this led to long boring extracts, which my editor convinced me would have to go. I needed to paraphrase the research somehow, put it in my own words, warm it with my stylistic breath.To convert this obdurate magma into something relatively essayistic, intimate, conversational, I had to call on every trick, irony and witticism I could muster. At one point, this meant lampooning the tone of a pedantic biologist; at another, playing up in a self-deprecating way my ignorance. I gave myself the challenge of writing the heroic but too-familiar saga of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in one long, Jamesian, convoluted sentence. I speeded up the geological cycle of the Ice Age like a silent comedy. No one commented on these devices, or perhaps even noticed them, but they helped reassure me I had put a personal stamp on this technical matter.

Researching inspires in you an obligation to finish your writing project, if only to serve faithfully the scholarly materials. It is not longer all about you, but about them, too, as though they had somehow become your offspring when you weren’t watching. “Print me, Papa,” beseech those index cards, those notepads, those Post-Its.

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personal essay in creative writing

10 Personal Statement Essay Examples That Worked

What’s covered:, what is a personal statement.

  • Essay 1: Summer Program
  • Essay 2: Being Bangladeshi-American
  • Essay 3: Why Medicine
  • Essay 4: Love of Writing
  • Essay 5: Starting a Fire
  • Essay 6: Dedicating a Track
  • Essay 7: Body Image and Eating Disorders
  • Essay 8: Becoming a Coach
  • Essay 9: Eritrea
  • Essay 10: Journaling
  • Is Your Personal Statement Strong Enough?

Your personal statement is any essay that you must write for your main application, such as the Common App Essay , University of California Essays , or Coalition Application Essay . This type of essay focuses on your unique experiences, ideas, or beliefs that may not be discussed throughout the rest of your application. This essay should be an opportunity for the admissions officers to get to know you better and give them a glimpse into who you really are.

In this post, we will share 10 different personal statements that were all written by real students. We will also provide commentary on what each essay did well and where there is room for improvement, so you can make your personal statement as strong as possible!

Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

Personal Statement Examples

Essay example #1: exchange program.

The twisting roads, ornate mosaics, and fragrant scent of freshly ground spices had been so foreign at first. Now in my fifth week of the SNYI-L summer exchange program in Morocco, I felt more comfortable in the city. With a bag full of pastries from the market, I navigated to a bus stop, paid the fare, and began the trip back to my host family’s house. It was hard to believe that only a few years earlier my mom was worried about letting me travel around my home city on my own, let alone a place that I had only lived in for a few weeks. While I had been on a journey towards self-sufficiency and independence for a few years now, it was Morocco that pushed me to become the confident, self-reflective person that I am today.

As a child, my parents pressured me to achieve perfect grades, master my swim strokes, and discover interesting hobbies like playing the oboe and learning to pick locks. I felt compelled to live my life according to their wishes. Of course, this pressure was not a wholly negative factor in my life –– you might even call it support. However, the constant presence of my parents’ hopes for me overcame my own sense of desire and led me to become quite dependent on them. I pushed myself to get straight A’s, complied with years of oboe lessons, and dutifully attended hours of swim practice after school. Despite all these achievements, I felt like I had no sense of self beyond my drive for success. I had always been expected to succeed on the path they had defined. However, this path was interrupted seven years after my parents’ divorce when my dad moved across the country to Oregon.

I missed my dad’s close presence, but I loved my new sense of freedom. My parents’ separation allowed me the space to explore my own strengths and interests as each of them became individually busier. As early as middle school, I was riding the light rail train by myself, reading maps to get myself home, and applying to special academic programs without urging from my parents. Even as I took more initiatives on my own, my parents both continued to see me as somewhat immature. All of that changed three years ago, when I applied and was accepted to the SNYI-L summer exchange program in Morocco. I would be studying Arabic and learning my way around the city of Marrakesh. Although I think my parents were a little surprised when I told them my news, the addition of a fully-funded scholarship convinced them to let me go.

I lived with a host family in Marrakesh and learned that they, too, had high expectations for me. I didn’t know a word of Arabic, and although my host parents and one brother spoke good English, they knew I was there to learn. If I messed up, they patiently corrected me but refused to let me fall into the easy pattern of speaking English just as I did at home. Just as I had when I was younger, I felt pressured and stressed about meeting their expectations. However, one day, as I strolled through the bustling market square after successfully bargaining with one of the street vendors, I realized my mistake. My host family wasn’t being unfair by making me fumble through Arabic. I had applied for this trip, and I had committed to the intensive language study. My host family’s rules about speaking Arabic at home had not been to fulfill their expectations for me, but to help me fulfill my expectations for myself. Similarly, the pressure my parents had put on me as a child had come out of love and their hopes for me, not out of a desire to crush my individuality.

As my bus drove through the still-bustling market square and past the medieval Ben-Youssef madrasa, I realized that becoming independent was a process, not an event. I thought that my parents’ separation when I was ten had been the one experience that would transform me into a self-motivated and autonomous person. It did, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t still have room to grow. Now, although I am even more self-sufficient than I was three years ago, I try to approach every experience with the expectation that it will change me. It’s still difficult, but I understand that just because growth can be uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not important.

What the Essay Did Well

This is a nice essay because it delves into particular character trait of the student and how it has been shaped and matured over time. Although it doesn’t focus the essay around a specific anecdote, the essay is still successful because it is centered around this student’s independence. This is a nice approach for a personal statement: highlight a particular trait of yours and explore how it has grown with you.

The ideas in this essay are universal to growing up—living up to parents’ expectations, yearning for freedom, and coming to terms with reality—but it feels unique to the student because of the inclusion of details specific to them. Including their oboe lessons, the experience of riding the light rail by themselves, and the negotiations with a street vendor helps show the reader what these common tropes of growing up looked like for them personally. 

Another strength of the essay is the level of self-reflection included throughout the piece. Since there is no central anecdote tying everything together, an essay about a character trait is only successful when you deeply reflect on how you felt, where you made mistakes, and how that trait impacts your life. The author includes reflection in sentences like “ I felt like I had no sense of self beyond my drive for success, ” and “ I understand that just because growth can be uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not important. ” These sentences help us see how the student was impacted and what their point of view is.

What Could Be Improved

The largest change this essay would benefit from is to show not tell. The platitude you have heard a million times no doubt, but for good reason. This essay heavily relies on telling the reader what occurred, making us less engaged as the entire reading experience feels more passive. If the student had shown us what happens though, it keeps the reader tied to the action and makes them feel like they are there with the student, making it much more enjoyable to read. 

For example, they tell us about the pressure to succeed their parents placed on them: “ I pushed myself to get straight A’s, complied with years of oboe lessons, and dutifully attended hours of swim practice after school.”  They could have shown us what that pressure looked like with a sentence like this: “ My stomach turned somersaults as my rattling knee thumped against the desk before every test, scared to get anything less than a 95. For five years the painful squawk of the oboe only reminded me of my parents’ claps and whistles at my concerts. I mastered the butterfly, backstroke, and freestyle, fighting against the anchor of their expectations threatening to pull me down.”

If the student had gone through their essay and applied this exercise of bringing more detail and colorful language to sentences that tell the reader what happened, the essay would be really great. 

Table of Contents

Essay Example #2: Being Bangladeshi-American

Life before was good: verdant forests, sumptuous curries, and a devoted family.

Then, my family abandoned our comfortable life in Bangladesh for a chance at the American dream in Los Angeles. Within our first year, my father was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He lost his battle three weeks before my sixth birthday. Facing a new country without the steady presence of my father, we were vulnerable — prisoners of hardship in the land of the free. We resettled in the Bronx, in my uncle’s renovated basement. It was meant to be our refuge, but I felt more displaced than ever. Gone were the high-rise condos of West L.A.; instead, government projects towered over the neighborhood. Pedestrians no longer smiled and greeted me; the atmosphere was hostile, even toxic. Schoolkids were quick to pick on those they saw as weak or foreign, hurling harsh words I’d never heard before.

Meanwhile, my family began integrating into the local Bangladeshi community. I struggled to understand those who shared my heritage. Bangladeshi mothers stayed home while fathers drove cabs and sold fruit by the roadside — painful societal positions. Riding on crosstown buses or walking home from school, I began to internalize these disparities. During my fleeting encounters with affluent Upper East Siders, I saw kids my age with nannies, parents who wore suits to work, and luxurious apartments with spectacular views. Most took cabs to their destinations: cabs that Bangladeshis drove. I watched the mundane moments of their lives with longing, aching to plant myself in their shoes. Shame prickled down my spine. I distanced myself from my heritage, rejecting the traditional panjabis worn on Eid and refusing the torkari we ate for dinner every day. 

As I grappled with my relationship with the Bangladeshi community, I turned my attention to helping my Bronx community by pursuing an internship with Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda. I handled desk work and took calls, spending the bulk of my time actively listening to the hardships constituents faced — everything from a veteran stripped of his benefits to a grandmother unable to support her bedridden grandchild.

I’d never exposed myself to stories like these, and now I was the first to hear them. As an intern, I could only assist in what felt like the small ways — pointing out local job offerings, printing information on free ESL classes, reaching out to non-profits. But to a community facing an onslaught of intense struggles, I realized that something as small as these actions could have vast impacts. Seeing the immediate consequences of my actions inspired me. Throughout that summer, I internalized my community’s daily challenges in a new light. I began to stop seeing the prevalent underemployment and cramped living quarters less as sources of shame. Instead, I saw them as realities that had to be acknowledged, but could ultimately be remedied. I also realized the benefits of the Bangladeshi culture I had been so ashamed of. My Bangla language skills were an asset to the office, and my understanding of Bangladeshi etiquette allowed for smooth communication between office staff and its constituents. As I helped my neighbors navigate city services, I saw my heritage with pride — a perspective I never expected to have.

I can now appreciate the value of my unique culture and background, and of living with less. This perspective offers room for progress, community integration, and a future worth fighting for. My time with Assemblyman Sepulveda’s office taught me that I can be a change agent in enabling this progression. Far from being ashamed of my community, I want to someday return to local politics in the Bronx to continue helping others access the American Dream. I hope to help my community appreciate the opportunity to make progress together. By embracing reality, I learned to live it. Along the way, I discovered one thing: life is good, but we can make it better.

This student’s passion for social justice and civic duty shines through in this essay because of how honest it is. Sharing their personal experience with immigrating, moving around, being an outsider, and finding a community allows us to see the hardships this student has faced and builds empathy towards their situation. However, what really makes it strong is that they go beyond describing the difficulties they faced and explain the mental impact it had on them as a child: Shame prickled down my spine. I distanced myself from my heritage, rejecting the traditional panjabis worn on Eid and refusing the torkari we ate for dinner every day. 

The rejection of their culture presented at the beginning of the essay creates a nice juxtaposition with the student’s view in the latter half of the essay and helps demonstrate how they have matured. They use their experience interning as a way to delve into a change in their thought process about their culture and show how their passion for social justice began. Using this experience as a mechanism to explore their thoughts and feelings is an excellent example of how items that are included elsewhere on your application should be incorporated into your essay.

This essay prioritizes emotions and personal views over specific anecdotes. Although there are details and certain moments incorporated throughout to emphasize the author’s points, the main focus remains on the student and how they grapple with their culture and identity.  

One area for improvement is the conclusion. Although the forward-looking approach is a nice way to end an essay focused on social justice, it would be nice to include more details and imagery in the conclusion. How does the student want to help their community? What government position do they see themselves holding one day? 

A more impactful ending might look like the student walking into their office at the New York City Housing Authority in 15 years and looking at the plans to build a new development in the Bronx just blocks away from where the grew up that would provide quality housing to people in their Bangladeshi community. They would smile while thinking about how far they have come from that young kid who used to be ashamed of their culture. 

Essay Example #3: Why Medicine

I took my first trip to China to visit my cousin Anna in July of 2014. Distance had kept us apart, but when we were together, we fell into all of our old inside jokes and caught up on each other’s lives. Her sparkling personality and optimistic attitude always brought a smile to my face. This time, however, my heart broke when I saw the effects of her brain cancer; she had suffered from a stroke that paralyzed her left side. She was still herself in many ways, but I could see that the damage to her brain made things difficult for her. I stayed by her every day, providing the support she needed, whether assisting her with eating and drinking, reading to her, or just watching “Friends.” During my flight back home, sorrow and helplessness overwhelmed me. Would I ever see Anna again? Could I have done more to make Anna comfortable? I wished I could stay in China longer to care for her. As I deplaned, I wondered if I could transform my grief to help other children and teenagers in the US who suffered as Anna did.

The day after I got home, as jet lag dragged me awake a few minutes after midnight, I remembered hearing about the Family Reach Foundation (FRF) and its work with children going through treatments at the local hospital and their families. I began volunteering in the FRF’s Children’s Activity Room, where I play with children battling cancer. Volunteering has both made me appreciate my own health and also cherish the new relationships I build with the children and families. We play sports, make figures out of playdoh, and dress up. When they take on the roles of firefighters or fairies, we all get caught up in the game; for that time, they forget the sanitized, stark, impersonal walls of the pediatric oncology ward. Building close relationships with them and seeing them giggle and laugh is so rewarding — I love watching them grow and get better throughout their course of treatment.

Hearing from the parents about their children’s condition and seeing the children recover inspired me to consider medical research. To get started, I enrolled in a summer collegelevel course in Abnormal Psychology. There I worked with Catelyn, a rising college senior, on a data analysis project regarding Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Together, we examined the neurological etiology of DID by studying four fMRI and PET cases. I fell in love with gathering data and analyzing the results and was amazed by our final product: several stunning brain images showcasing the areas of hyper and hypoactivity in brains affected by DID. Desire quickly followed my amazement — I want to continue this project and study more brains. Their complexity, delicacy, and importance to every aspect of life fascinate me. Successfully completing this research project gave me a sense of hope; I know I am capable of participating in a large scale research project and potentially making a difference in someone else’s life through my research.

Anna’s diagnosis inspired me to begin volunteering at FRF; from there, I discovered my desire to help people further by contributing to medical research. As my research interest blossomed, I realized that it’s no coincidence that I want to study brains—after all, Anna suffered from brain cancer. Reflecting on these experiences this past year and a half, I see that everything I’ve done is connected. Sadly, a few months after I returned from China, Anna passed away. I am still sad, but as I run a toy truck across the floor and watch one of the little patients’ eyes light up, I imagine that she would be proud of my commitment to pursue medicine and study the brain.

This essay has a very strong emotional core that tugs at the heart strings and makes the reader feel invested. Writing about sickness can be difficult and doesn’t always belong in a personal statement, but in this case it works well because the focus is on how this student cared for her cousin and dealt with the grief and emotions surrounding her condition. Writing about the compassion she showed and the doubts and concerns that filled her mind keeps the focus on the author and her personality. 

This continues when she again discusses the activities she did with the kids at FRF and the personal reflection this experience allowed her to have. For example, she writes: Volunteering has both made me appreciate my own health and also cherish the new relationships I build with the children and families. We play sports, make figures out of playdoh, and dress up.

Concluding the essay with the sad story of her cousin’s passing brings the essay full circle and returns to the emotional heart of the piece to once again build a connection with the reader. However, it finishes on a hopeful note and demonstrates how this student has been able to turn a tragic experience into a source of lifelong inspiration. 

One thing this essay should be cognizant of is that personal statements should not read as summaries of your extracurricular resume. Although this essay doesn’t fully fall into that trap, it does describe two key extracurriculars the student participated in. However, the inclusion of such a strong emotional core running throughout the essay helps keep the focus on the student and her thoughts and feelings during these activities.

To avoid making this mistake, make sure you have a common thread running through your essay and the extracurriculars provide support to the story you are trying to tell, rather than crafting a story around your activities. And, as this essay does, make sure there is lots of personal reflection and feelings weaved throughout to focus attention to you rather than your extracurriculars. 

Essay Example #4: Love of Writing

“I want to be a writer.” This had been my answer to every youthful discussion with the adults in my life about what I would do when I grew up. As early as elementary school, I remember reading my writing pieces aloud to an audience at “Author of the Month” ceremonies. Bearing this goal in mind, and hoping to gain some valuable experience, I signed up for a journalism class during my freshman year. Despite my love for writing, I initially found myself uninterested in the subject and I struggled to enjoy the class. When I thought of writing, I imagined lyrical prose, profound poetry, and thrilling plot lines. Journalism required a laconic style and orderly structure, and I found my teacher’s assignments formulaic and dull. That class shook my confidence as a writer. I was uncertain if I should continue in it for the rest of my high school career.

Despite my misgivings, I decided that I couldn’t make a final decision on whether to quit journalism until I had some experience working for a paper outside of the classroom. The following year, I applied to be a staff reporter on our school newspaper. I hoped this would help me become more self-driven and creative, rather than merely writing articles that my teacher assigned. To my surprise, my time on staff was worlds away from what I experienced in the journalism class. Although I was unaccustomed to working in a fast-paced environment and initially found it burdensome to research and complete high-quality stories in a relatively short amount of time, I also found it exciting. I enjoyed learning more about topics and events on campus that I did not know much about; some of my stories that I covered in my first semester concerned a chess tournament, a food drive, and a Spanish immersion party. I relished in the freedom I had to explore and learn, and to write more independently than I could in a classroom.

Although I enjoyed many aspects of working for the paper immediately, reporting also pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I am a shy person, and speaking with people I did not know intimidated me. During my first interview, I met with the basketball coach to prepare for a story about the team’s winning streak. As I approached his office, I felt everything from my toes to my tongue freeze into a solid block, and I could hardly get out my opening questions. Fortunately, the coach was very kind and helped me through the conversation. Encouraged, I prepared for my next interview with more confidence. After a few weeks of practice, I even started to look forward to interviewing people on campus. That first journalism class may have bored me, but even if journalism in practice was challenging, it was anything but tedious.

Over the course of that year, I grew to love writing for our school newspaper. Reporting made me aware of my surroundings, and made me want to know more about current events on campus and in the town where I grew up. By interacting with people all over campus, I came to understand the breadth of individuals and communities that make up my high school. I felt far more connected to diverse parts of my school through my work as a journalist, and I realized that journalism gave me a window into seeing beyond my own experiences. The style of news writing may be different from what I used to think “writing” meant, but I learned that I can still derive exciting plots from events that may have gone unnoticed if not for my stories. I no longer struggle to approach others, and truly enjoy getting to know people and recognizing their accomplishments through my writing. Becoming a writer may be a difficult path, but it is as rewarding as I hoped when I was young.

This essay is clearly structured in a manner that makes it flow very nicely and contributes to its success. It starts with a quote to draw in the reader and show this student’s life-long passion for writing. Then it addresses the challenges of facing new, unfamiliar territory and how this student overcame it. Finally, it concludes by reflecting on this eye-opening experience and a nod to their younger self from the introduction. Having a well-thought out and sequential structure with clear transitions makes it extremely easy for the reader to follow along and take away the main idea.

Another positive aspect of the essay is the use of strong and expressive language. Sentences like “ When I thought of writing, I imagined lyrical prose, profound poetry, and thrilling plot lines ” stand out because of the intentional use of words like “lyrical”, “profound”, and “thrilling” to convey the student’s love of writing. The author also uses an active voice to capture the readers’ attention and keep us engaged. They rely on their language and diction to reveal details to the reader, for instance saying “ I felt everything from my toes to my tongue freeze into a solid block ” to describe feeling nervous.

This essay is already very strong, so there isn’t much that needs to be changed. One thing that could take the essay from great to outstanding would be to throw in more quotes, internal dialogue, and sensory descriptors.

It would be nice to see the nerves they felt interviewing the coach by including dialogue like “ Um…I want to interview you about…uh…”.  They could have shown their original distaste for journalism by narrating the thoughts running through their head. The fast-paced environment of their newspaper could have come to life with descriptions about the clacking of keyboards and the whirl of people running around laying out articles.

Essay Example #5: Starting a Fire

Was I no longer the beloved daughter of nature, whisperer of trees? Knee-high rubber boots, camouflage, bug spray—I wore the garb and perfume of a proud wild woman, yet there I was, hunched over the pathetic pile of stubborn sticks, utterly stumped, on the verge of tears. As a child, I had considered myself a kind of rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge Lyme-free. I knew the cracks of the earth like the scars on my own rough palms. Yet here I was, ten years later, incapable of performing the most fundamental outdoor task: I could not, for the life of me, start a fire. 

Furiously I rubbed the twigs together—rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers. No smoke. The twigs were too young, too sticky-green; I tossed them away with a shower of curses, and began tearing through the underbrush in search of a more flammable collection. My efforts were fruitless. Livid, I bit a rejected twig, determined to prove that the forest had spurned me, offering only young, wet bones that would never burn. But the wood cracked like carrots between my teeth—old, brittle, and bitter. Roaring and nursing my aching palms, I retreated to the tent, where I sulked and awaited the jeers of my family. 

Rattling their empty worm cans and reeking of fat fish, my brother and cousins swaggered into the campsite. Immediately, they noticed the minor stick massacre by the fire pit and called to me, their deep voices already sharp with contempt. 

“Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” they taunted. “Having some trouble?” They prodded me with the ends of the chewed branches and, with a few effortless scrapes of wood on rock, sparked a red and roaring flame. My face burned long after I left the fire pit. The camp stank of salmon and shame. 

In the tent, I pondered my failure. Was I so dainty? Was I that incapable? I thought of my hands, how calloused and capable they had been, how tender and smooth they had become. It had been years since I’d kneaded mud between my fingers; instead of scaling a white pine, I’d practiced scales on my piano, my hands softening into those of a musician—fleshy and sensitive. And I’d gotten glasses, having grown horrifically nearsighted; long nights of dim lighting and thick books had done this. I couldn’t remember the last time I had lain down on a hill, barefaced, and seen the stars without having to squint. Crawling along the edge of the tent, a spider confirmed my transformation—he disgusted me, and I felt an overwhelming urge to squash him. 

Yet, I realized I hadn’t really changed—I had only shifted perspective. I still eagerly explored new worlds, but through poems and prose rather than pastures and puddles. I’d grown to prefer the boom of a bass over that of a bullfrog, learned to coax a different kind of fire from wood, having developed a burn for writing rhymes and scrawling hypotheses. 

That night, I stayed up late with my journal and wrote about the spider I had decided not to kill. I had tolerated him just barely, only shrieking when he jumped—it helped to watch him decorate the corners of the tent with his delicate webs, knowing that he couldn’t start fires, either. When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.

This student is an excellent writer, which allows a simple story to be outstandingly compelling. The author articulates her points beautifully and creatively through her immense use of details and figurative language. Lines like “a rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees,” and “rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers,” create vivid images that draw the reader in. 

The flowery and descriptive prose also contributes to the nice juxtaposition between the old Clara and the new Clara. The latter half of the essay contrasts elements of nature with music and writing to demonstrate how natural these interests are for her now. This sentence perfectly encapsulates the contrast she is trying to build: “It had been years since I’d kneaded mud between my fingers; instead of scaling a white pine, I’d practiced scales on my piano, my hands softening into those of a musician—fleshy and sensitive.”

In addition to being well-written, this essay is thematically cohesive. It begins with the simple introduction “Fire!” and ends with the following image: “When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.” This full-circle approach leaves readers satisfied and impressed.

There is very little this essay should change, however one thing to be cautious about is having an essay that is overly-descriptive. We know from the essay that this student likes to read and write, and depending on other elements of her application, it might make total sense to have such a flowery and ornate writing style. However, your personal statement needs to reflect your voice as well as your personality. If you would never use language like this in conversation or your writing, don’t put it in your personal statement. Make sure there is a balance between eloquence and your personal voice.

Essay Example #6: Dedicating a Track

“Getting beat is one thing – it’s part of competing – but I want no part in losing.” Coach Rob Stark’s motto never fails to remind me of his encouragement on early-morning bus rides to track meets around the state. I’ve always appreciated the phrase, but an experience last June helped me understand its more profound, universal meaning.

Stark, as we affectionately call him, has coached track at my high school for 25 years. His care, dedication, and emphasis on developing good character has left an enduring impact on me and hundreds of other students. Not only did he help me discover my talent and love for running, but he also taught me the importance of commitment and discipline and to approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running. When I learned a neighboring high school had dedicated their track to a longtime coach, I felt that Stark deserved similar honors.

Our school district’s board of education indicated they would only dedicate our track to Stark if I could demonstrate that he was extraordinary. I took charge and mobilized my teammates to distribute petitions, reach out to alumni, and compile statistics on the many team and individual champions Stark had coached over the years. We received astounding support, collecting almost 3,000 signatures and pages of endorsements from across the community. With help from my teammates, I presented this evidence to the board.

They didn’t bite. 

Most members argued that dedicating the track was a low priority. Knowing that we had to act quickly to convince them of its importance, I called a team meeting where we drafted a rebuttal for the next board meeting. To my surprise, they chose me to deliver it. I was far from the best public speaker in the group, and I felt nervous about going before the unsympathetic board again. However, at that second meeting, I discovered that I enjoy articulating and arguing for something that I’m passionate about.

Public speaking resembles a cross country race. Walking to the starting line, you have to trust your training and quell your last minute doubts. When the gun fires, you can’t think too hard about anything; your performance has to be instinctual, natural, even relaxed. At the next board meeting, the podium was my starting line. As I walked up to it, familiar butterflies fluttered in my stomach. Instead of the track stretching out in front of me, I faced the vast audience of teachers, board members, and my teammates. I felt my adrenaline build, and reassured myself: I’ve put in the work, my argument is powerful and sound. As the board president told me to introduce myself, I heard, “runners set” in the back of my mind. She finished speaking, and Bang! The brief silence was the gunshot for me to begin. 

The next few minutes blurred together, but when the dust settled, I knew from the board members’ expressions and the audience’s thunderous approval that I had run quite a race. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough; the board voted down our proposal. I was disappointed, but proud of myself, my team, and our collaboration off the track. We stood up for a cause we believed in, and I overcame my worries about being a leader. Although I discovered that changing the status quo through an elected body can be a painstakingly difficult process and requires perseverance, I learned that I enjoy the challenges this effort offers. Last month, one of the school board members joked that I had become a “regular” – I now often show up to meetings to advocate for a variety of causes, including better environmental practices in cafeterias and safer equipment for athletes.

Just as Stark taught me, I worked passionately to achieve my goal. I may have been beaten when I appealed to the board, but I certainly didn’t lose, and that would have made Stark proud.

This essay effectively conveys this student’s compassion for others, initiative, and determination—all great qualities to exemplify in a personal statement!

Although they rely on telling us a lot of what happened up until the board meeting, the use of running a race (their passion) as a metaphor for public speaking provides a lot of insight into the fear that this student overcame to work towards something bigger than themself. Comparing a podium to the starting line, the audience to the track, and silence to the gunshot is a nice way of demonstrating this student’s passion for cross country running without making that the focus of the story.

The essay does a nice job of coming full circle at the end by explaining what the quote from the beginning meant to them after this experience. Without explicitly saying “ I now know that what Stark actually meant is…” they rely on the strength of their argument above to make it obvious to the reader what it means to get beat but not lose. 

One of the biggest areas of improvement in the intro, however, is how the essay tells us Stark’s impact rather than showing us: His care, dedication, and emphasis on developing good character has left an enduring impact on me and hundreds of other students. Not only did he help me discover my talent and love for running, but he also taught me the importance of commitment and discipline and to approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running.

The writer could’ve helped us feel a stronger emotional connection to Stark if they had included examples of Stark’s qualities, rather than explicitly stating them. For example, they could’ve written something like: Stark was the kind of person who would give you gas money if you told him your parents couldn’t afford to pick you up from practice. And he actually did that—several times. At track meets, alumni regularly would come talk to him and tell him how he’d changed their lives. Before Stark, I was ambivalent about running and was on the JV team, but his encouragement motivated me to run longer and harder and eventually make varsity. Because of him, I approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running.

Essay Example #7: Body Image and Eating Disorders

I press the “discover” button on my Instagram app, hoping to find enticing pictures to satisfy my boredom. Scrolling through, I see funny videos and mouth-watering pictures of food. However, one image stops me immediately. A fit teenage girl with a “perfect body” relaxes in a bikini on a beach. Beneath it, I see a slew of flattering comments. I shake with disapproval over the image’s unrealistic quality. However, part of me still wants to have a body like hers so that others will make similar comments to me.

I would like to resolve a silent issue that harms many teenagers and adults: negative self image and low self-esteem in a world where social media shapes how people view each other. When people see the façades others wear to create an “ideal” image, they can develop poor thought patterns rooted in negative self-talk. The constant comparisons to “perfect” others make people feel small. In this new digital age, it is hard to distinguish authentic from artificial representations.

When I was 11, I developed anorexia nervosa. Though I was already thin, I wanted to be skinny like the models that I saw on the magazine covers on the grocery store stands. Little did I know that those models probably also suffered from disorders, and that photoshop erased their flaws. I preferred being underweight to being healthy. No matter how little I ate or how thin I was, I always thought that I was too fat. I became obsessed with the number on the scale and would try to eat the least that I could without my parents urging me to take more. Fortunately, I stopped engaging in anorexic behaviors before middle school. However, my underlying mental habits did not change. The images that had provoked my disorder in the first place were still a constant presence in my life.

By age 15, I was in recovery from anorexia, but suffered from depression. While I used to only compare myself to models, the growth of social media meant I also compared myself to my friends and acquaintances. I felt left out when I saw my friends’ excitement about lake trips they had taken without me. As I scrolled past endless photos of my flawless, thin classmates with hundreds of likes and affirming comments, I felt my jealousy spiral. I wanted to be admired and loved by other people too. However, I felt that I could never be enough. I began to hate the way that I looked, and felt nothing in my life was good enough. I wanted to be called “perfect” and “body goals,” so I tried to only post at certain times of day to maximize my “likes.” When that didn’t work, I started to feel too anxious to post anything at all.  

Body image insecurities and social media comparisons affect thousands of people – men, women, children, and adults – every day. I am lucky – after a few months of my destructive social media habits, I came across a video that pointed out the illusory nature of social media; many Instagram posts only show off good things while people hide their flaws. I began going to therapy, and recovered from my depression. To address the problem of self-image and social media, we can all focus on what matters on the inside and not what is on the surface. As an effort to become healthy internally, I started a club at my school to promote clean eating and radiating beauty from within. It has helped me grow in my confidence, and today I’m not afraid to show others my struggles by sharing my experience with eating disorders. Someday, I hope to make this club a national organization to help teenagers and adults across the country. I support the idea of body positivity and embracing difference, not “perfection.” After all, how can we be ourselves if we all look the same?

This essay covers the difficult topics of eating disorders and mental health. If you’re thinking about covering similar topics in your essay, we recommend reading our post Should You Talk About Mental Health in College Essays?

The short answer is that, yes, you can talk about mental health, but it can be risky. If you do go that route, it’s important to focus on what you learned from the experience.

The strength of this essay is the student’s vulnerability, in excerpts such as this: I wanted to be admired and loved by other people too. However, I felt that I could never be enough. I began to hate the way that I looked, and felt nothing in my life was good enough. I wanted to be called “perfect” and “body goals,” so I tried to only post at certain times of day to maximize my “likes.”

The student goes on to share how they recovered from their depression through an eye-opening video and therapy sessions, and they’re now helping others find their self-worth as well. It’s great that this essay looks towards the future and shares the writer’s goals of making their club a national organization; we can see their ambition and compassion.

The main weakness of this essay is that it doesn’t focus enough on their recovery process, which is arguably the most important part. They could’ve told us more about the video they watched or the process of starting their club and the interactions they’ve had with other members. Especially when sharing such a vulnerable topic, there should be vulnerability in the recovery process too. That way, the reader can fully appreciate all that this student has overcome.

Essay Example #8: Becoming a Coach

”Advanced females ages 13 to 14 please proceed to staging with your coaches at this time.” Skittering around the room, eyes wide and pleading, I frantically explained my situation to nearby coaches. The seconds ticked away in my head; every polite refusal increased my desperation.

Despair weighed me down. I sank to my knees as a stream of competitors, coaches, and officials flowed around me. My dojang had no coach, and the tournament rules prohibited me from competing without one.

Although I wanted to remain strong, doubts began to cloud my mind. I could not help wondering: what was the point of perfecting my skills if I would never even compete? The other members of my team, who had found coaches minutes earlier, attempted to comfort me, but I barely heard their words. They couldn’t understand my despair at being left on the outside, and I never wanted them to understand.

Since my first lesson 12 years ago, the members of my dojang have become family. I have watched them grow up, finding my own happiness in theirs. Together, we have honed our kicks, blocks, and strikes. We have pushed one another to aim higher and become better martial artists. Although my dojang had searched for a reliable coach for years, we had not found one. When we attended competitions in the past, my teammates and I had always gotten lucky and found a sympathetic coach. Now, I knew this practice was unsustainable. It would devastate me to see the other members of my dojang in my situation, unable to compete and losing hope as a result. My dojang needed a coach, and I decided it was up to me to find one.

I first approached the adults in the dojang – both instructors and members’ parents. However, these attempts only reacquainted me with polite refusals. Everyone I asked told me they couldn’t devote multiple weekends per year to competitions. I soon realized that I would have become the coach myself.

At first, the inner workings of tournaments were a mystery to me. To prepare myself for success as a coach, I spent the next year as an official and took coaching classes on the side. I learned everything from motivational strategies to technical, behind-the-scenes components of Taekwondo competitions. Though I emerged with new knowledge and confidence in my capabilities, others did not share this faith.

Parents threw me disbelieving looks when they learned that their children’s coach was only a child herself. My self-confidence was my armor, deflecting their surly glances. Every armor is penetrable, however, and as the relentless barrage of doubts pounded my resilience, it began to wear down. I grew unsure of my own abilities.

Despite the attack, I refused to give up. When I saw the shining eyes of the youngest students preparing for their first competition, I knew I couldn’t let them down. To quit would be to set them up to be barred from competing like I was. The knowledge that I could solve my dojang’s longtime problem motivated me to overcome my apprehension.

Now that my dojang flourishes at competitions, the attacks on me have weakened, but not ended. I may never win the approval of every parent; at times, I am still tormented by doubts, but I find solace in the fact that members of my dojang now only worry about competing to the best of their abilities.

Now, as I arrive at a tournament with my students, I close my eyes and remember the past. I visualize the frantic search for a coach and the chaos amongst my teammates as we competed with one another to find coaches before the staging calls for our respective divisions. I open my eyes to the exact opposite scene. Lacking a coach hurt my ability to compete, but I am proud to know that no member of my dojang will have to face that problem again.

This essay begins with an in-the-moment narrative that really illustrates the chaos of looking for a coach last-minute. We feel the writer’s emotions, particularly her dejectedness, at not being able to compete. Starting an essay in media res  is a great way to capture the attention of your readers and build anticipation for what comes next.

Through this essay, we can see how gutsy and determined the student is in deciding to become a coach themselves. She shows us these characteristics through their actions, rather than explicitly telling us: To prepare myself for success as a coach, I spent the next year as an official and took coaching classes on the side.  Also, by discussing the opposition she faced and how it affected her, the student is open and vulnerable about the reality of the situation.

The essay comes full circle as the author recalls the frantic situations in seeking out a coach, but this is no longer a concern for them and their team. Overall, this essay is extremely effective in painting this student as mature, bold, and compassionate.

The biggest thing this essay needs to work on is showing not telling. Throughout the essay, the student tells us that she “emerged with new knowledge and confidence,” she “grew unsure of her own abilities,” and she “refused to give up”. What we really want to know is what this looks like.

Instead of saying she “emerged with new knowledge and confidence” she should have shared how she taught a new move to a fellow team-member without hesitation. Rather than telling us she “grew unsure of her own abilities” she should have shown what that looked like by including her internal dialogue and rhetorical questions that ran through her mind. She could have demonstrated what “refusing to give up” looks like by explaining how she kept learning coaching techniques on her own, turned to a mentor for advice, or devised a plan to win over the trust of parents. 

Essay Example #9: Eritrea

No one knows where Eritrea is.

On the first day of school, for the past nine years, I would pensively stand in front of a class, a teacher, a stranger  waiting for the inevitable question: Where are you from?

I smile politely, my dimples accentuating my ambiguous features. “Eritrea,” I answer promptly and proudly. But I  am always prepared. Before their expression can deepen into confusion, ready to ask “where is that,” I elaborate,  perhaps with a fleeting hint of exasperation, “East Africa, near Ethiopia.”

Sometimes, I single out the key-shaped hermit nation on a map, stunning teachers who have “never had a student  from there!” Grinning, I resist the urge to remark, “You didn’t even know it existed until two minutes ago!”

Eritrea is to the East of Ethiopia, its arid coastline clutches the lucrative Red Sea. Battle scars litter the ancient  streets – the colonial Italian architecture lathered with bullet holes, the mosques mangled with mortar shells.  Originally part of the world’s first Christian kingdom, Eritrea passed through the hands of colonial Italy, Britain, and  Ethiopia for over a century, until a bloody thirty year war of Independence liberated us.

But these are facts that anyone can know with a quick Google search. These are facts that I have memorised and compounded, first from my Grandmother and now from pristine books  borrowed from the library.

No historical narrative, however, can adequately capture what Eritrea is.  No one knows the aroma of bushels of potatoes, tomatoes, and garlic – still covered in dirt – that leads you to the open-air market. No one knows the poignant scent of spices, arranged in orange piles reminiscent of compacted  dunes.  No one knows how to haggle stubborn herders for sheep and roosters for Christmas celebrations as deliberately as my mother. No one can replicate the perfect balance of spices in dorho and tsebhi as well as my grandmother,  her gnarly hands stirring the pot with ancient precision (chastising my clumsy knife work with the potatoes).  It’s impossible to learn when the injera is ready – the exact moment you have to lift the lid of the mogogo. Do it too  early (or too late) and the flatbread becomes mangled and gross. It is a sixth sense passed through matriarchal  lineages.

There are no sources that catalogue the scent of incense that wafts through the sunlit porch on St. Michael’s; no  films that can capture the luminescence of hundreds of flaming bonfires that fluoresce the sidewalks on Kudus  Yohannes, as excited children chant Ge’ez proverbs whose origin has been lost to time.  You cannot learn the familiarity of walking beneath the towering Gothic figure of the Enda Mariam Cathedral, the  crowds undulating to the ringing of the archaic bells.  I have memorized the sound of the rains hounding the metal roof during kiremti , the heat of the sun pounding  against the Toyota’s window as we sped down towards Ghinda , the opulent brilliance of the stars twinkling in a  sky untainted by light pollution, the scent of warm rolls of bani wafting through the streets at precisely 6 o’clock each day…

I fill my flimsy sketchbook with pictures from my memory. My hand remembers the shapes of the hibiscus drifting  in the wind, the outline of my grandmother (affectionately nicknamed a’abaye ) leaning over the garden, the bizarre architecture of the Fiat Tagliero .  I dice the vegetables with movements handed down from generations. My nose remembers the scent of frying garlic, the sourness of the warm tayta , the sharpness of the mit’mt’a …

This knowledge is intrinsic.  “I am Eritrean,” I repeat. “I am proud.”  Within me is an encyclopedia of history, culture, and idealism.

Eritrea is the coffee made from scratch, the spices drying in the sun, the priests and nuns. Eritrea is wise, filled with ambition, and unseen potential.  Eritrea isn’t a place, it’s an identity.

This is an exceptional essay that provides a window into this student’s culture that really makes their love for their country and heritage leap off the page. The sheer level of details and sensory descriptors this student is able to fit in this space makes the essay stand out. From the smells, to the traditions, sounds, and sights, the author encapsulates all the glory of Eritrea for the reader. 

The vivid images this student is able to create for the reader, whether it is having the tedious conversation with every teacher or cooking in their grandmother’s kitchen, transports us into the story and makes us feel like we are there in the moment with the student. This is a prime example of an essay that shows , not tells.

Besides the amazing imagery, the use of shorter paragraphs also contributes to how engaging this essay is. Employing this tactic helps break up the text to make it more readable and it isolates ideas so they stick out more than if they were enveloped in a large paragraph.

Overall, this is a really strong essay that brings to life this student’s heritage through its use of vivid imagery. This essay exemplifies what it means to show not tell in your writing, and it is a great example of how you can write an intimate personal statement without making yourself the primary focus of your essay. 

There is very little this essay should improve upon, but one thing the student might consider would be to inject more personal reflection into their response. Although we can clearly take away their deep love and passion for their homeland and culture, the essay would be a bit more personal if they included the emotions and feelings they associate with the various aspects of Eritrea. For example, the way their heart swells with pride when their grandmother praises their ability to cook a flatbread or the feeling of serenity when they hear the bells ring out from the cathedral. Including personal details as well as sensory ones would create a wonderful balance of imagery and reflection.

Essay Example #10: Journaling

Flipping past dozens of colorful entries in my journal, I arrive at the final blank sheet. I press my pen lightly to the page, barely scratching its surface to create a series of loops stringing together into sentences. Emotions spill out, and with their release, I feel lightness in my chest. The stream of thoughts slows as I reach the bottom of the page, and I gently close the cover of the worn book: another journal finished.

I add the journal to the stack of eleven books on my nightstand. Struck by the bittersweet sensation of closing a chapter of my life, I grab the notebook at the bottom of the pile to reminisce.

“I want to make a flying mushen to fly in space and your in it” – October 2008

Pulling back the cover of my first Tinkerbell-themed diary, the prompt “My Hopes and Dreams” captures my attention. Though “machine” is misspelled in my scribbled response, I see the beginnings of my past obsession with outer space. At the age of five, I tore through novels about the solar system, experimented with rockets built from plastic straws, and rented Space Shuttle films from Blockbuster to satisfy my curiosities. While I chased down answers to questions as limitless as the universe, I fell in love with learning. Eight journals later, the same relentless curiosity brought me to an airplane descending on San Francisco Bay.

“I wish I had infinite sunsets” – July 2019

I reach for the charcoal notepad near the top of the pile and open to the first page: my flight to the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes. While I was excited to explore bioengineering, anxiety twisted in my stomach as I imagined my destination, unsure of whether I could overcome my shyness and connect with others.

With each new conversation, the sweat on my palms became less noticeable, and I met students from 23 different countries. Many of the moments where I challenged myself socially revolved around the third story deck of the Jerry house. A strange medley of English, Arabic, and Mandarin filled the summer air as my friends and I gathered there every evening, and dialogues at sunset soon became moments of bliss. In our conversations about cultural differences, the possibility of an afterlife, and the plausibility of far-fetched conspiracy theories, I learned to voice my opinion. As I was introduced to different viewpoints, these moments challenged my understanding of the world around me. In my final entries from California, I find excitement to learn from others and increased confidence, a tool that would later allow me to impact my community.

“The beauty in a tower of cans” – June 2020

Returning my gaze to the stack of journals, I stretch to take the floral-patterned book sitting on top. I flip through, eventually finding the beginnings of the organization I created during the outbreak of COVID-19. Since then, Door-to-Door Deliveries has woven its way through my entries and into reality, allowing me to aid high-risk populations through free grocery delivery.

With the confidence I gained the summer before, I took action when seeing others in need rather than letting my shyness hold me back. I reached out to local churches and senior centers to spread word of our services and interacted with customers through our website and social media pages. To further expand our impact, we held two food drives, and I mustered the courage to ask for donations door-to-door. In a tower of canned donations, I saw the value of reaching out to help others and realized my own potential to impact the world around me.

I delicately close the journal in my hands, smiling softly as the memories reappear, one after another. Reaching under my bed, I pull out a fresh notebook and open to its first sheet. I lightly press my pen to the page, “And so begins the next chapter…”

The structuring of this essay makes it easy and enjoyable to read. The student effectively organizes their various life experiences around their tower of journals, which centers the reader and makes the different stories easy to follow. Additionally, the student engages quotes from their journals—and unique formatting of the quotes—to signal that they are moving in time and show us which memory we should follow them to.

Thematically, the student uses the idea of shyness to connect the different memories they draw out of their journals. As the student describes their experiences overcoming shyness at the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes and Door-to-Door Deliveries, this essay can be read as an Overcoming Obstacles essay.

At the end of this essay, readers are fully convinced that this student is dedicated (they have committed to journaling every day), thoughtful (journaling is a thoughtful process and, in the essay, the student reflects thoughtfully on the past), and motivated (they flew across the country for a summer program and started a business). These are definitely qualities admissions officers are looking for in applicants!

Although this essay is already exceptionally strong as it’s written, the first journal entry feels out of place compared to the other two entries that discuss the author’s shyness and determination. It works well for the essay to have an entry from when the student was younger to add some humor (with misspelled words) and nostalgia, but if the student had either connected the quote they chose to the idea of overcoming a fear present in the other two anecdotes or if they had picked a different quote all together related to their shyness, it would have made the entire essay feel more cohesive.

Where to Get Your Personal Statement Edited

Do you want feedback on your personal statement? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

Next Step: Supplemental Essays

Essay Guides for Each School

How to Write a Stellar Extracurricular Activity College Essay

4 Tips for Writing a Diversity College Essay

How to Write the “Why This College” Essay

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

personal essay in creative writing

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Email is the preferred method of sending obituaries. The text should be in the body of the email. Photos are accepted by email, in a .jpg format. Obituaries that appear in the Lake County Record-Bee can also appear in the Clear Lake Observer American.

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