Personal Essay Writing Bootcamp

How to write a personal essay for publication

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“Writing is an opportunity to take the emotions we have felt many times and give them light, color, and a story.” – Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones

In this self-paced class, you'll learn to master the essential elements of a memorable personal essay:

Understand the power of narrative structure

Write an essay that captivates both readers and editors

Polish your essay for the right publication

Are you a writer who has wanted to try her hand at writing a personal essay or a short memoir piece but you weren’t sure where to start? Are you a blogger who wants to submit to new places and show different sides of yourself as a writer? Have you always wanted to learn how to write about your personal experiences so that they communicate larger truths and meaning to others? Do you simply want to challenge yourself as a writer and get support and feedback from other writers?

This class has two versions:

  • a self-paced version, without instructor feedback
  • a Personal Essay Package, which includes: the self-paced course, two weeks of email support on a draft, and a final round of edits from the editors of Motherwell Magazine, Lauren Apfel and Randi Olin

In this class, we’ll learn about what makes a personal essay shine. Not just work but dazzle first an editor and then your readers. We’ll learn the elements of good essay writing that make personal stories come alive.

This four-week class will combine self-paced lessons, writing exercises, and readings from published writers. The goal of the class is to help you learn strategies for planning, drafting, organizing, and revising a compelling, meaningful personal essay to submit for publication.

Each week of the class will be focused around a theme.

Unit One: The focus will be on understanding the qualities of a personal essay and on brainstorming ideas for our own essays.

  • What is the personal essay? How does it differ from other writing genres?
  • Where are your strengths as a writer? Are they in creating description, in telling plot, or in reflecting on your experiences? How can you use those strengths and address your weaknesses?
  • How do you choose the right topic for your own story? Which memories or topics do you keep coming back to?
  • How do we identify the specific moments in our lives that are best for writing about larger themes?

Unit Two: The focus will be on adding specific details, description, and imagery to our writing.

  • How can you bring our readers into a story using sensory details and vivid description?
  • How do you create unforgettable scenes in your writing that convey a sense of place and develop characters? How do you use dialogue effectively?

Unit Three: The focus will be on revealing the deeper meaning, or theme, of our essays.

  • How do you figure out what the one “big thing” that your essay is about?
  • How do you learn to use your unique voice to express these meanings?

Unit Four: The focus will be on revising our essays.

  • How do we identify problems in our writing?
  • How do we ourselves give useful feedback to other writers?
  • How do we choose the best structure, or organization, for an essay?
  • How do we decide which feedback – from peers, from an instructor — is useful for us and which is not?
“Everything you need to know about life can be learned from a genuine and ongoing attempt to write” — Dani Shapiro in Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life

Your Instructor

Jessica Smock
Jessica Smock

Jessica Smock is a writer, educator, former teacher and researcher, and mom to a young son and toddler daughter. She lives in Buffalo with her family and earned her doctorate in educational policy and development from Boston University and is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Wesleyan University. She has taught and developed writing curricula for students in elementary school through graduate school. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

The HerStories Project is a writing and publishing community for women. We have published four essay collections, including My Other Ex: Women's True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends and Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience (She Writes Press). Through our online writing classes, we have taught personal essay writing and blogging classes to writers at all levels.

Frequently Asked Questions

When does the course start and finish?
The course starts now and never ends! It is a completely self-paced online course - you decide when you start and when you finish.
How long do I have access to the course?
How does lifetime access sound? After enrolling, you have unlimited access to this course for as long as you like - across any and all devices you own.
What if I am unhappy with the course?
We would never want you to be unhappy! If you are unsatisfied with your purchase, contact us in the first 30 days and we will give you a full refund.

Get started now!