Writing the Personal Essay

The personal essay is a container for our attempts to understand being human.

The word essay derives from the French word essai, meaning “trial, attempt, endeavor,” and from the Anglo-French assai, meaning “analysis.” The process of writing essays can be like the process of figuring out life. The key words here are process and try. This course provides strong examples of essays ranging in length and scope, each of which highlights a particular technique, or embodies a particular structure, that we’ll analyze and then try to apply to your own life stories.

In this course, you will:

  • Explore popular essay forms and structures that provide built-in guidelines for creating your own essays;
  • Connect personal stories to cultural or historical ones through light research;
  • Use meaningful physical objects as symbols to anchor your narrative;
  • Experiment with using other structures as shells for your own stories;
  • Consider, analyze, and emulate how known essayists create emotional tension in both long and short essays.

A theme that will run through the whole six weeks is what to leave unsaid—how to use fewer telling words and more description and symbolism to write around, but still articulate, emotional truth.

For writers of all levels and backgrounds, this course will provide a strong foundation for you to create containers to hold your efforts to understand and communicate your life’s stories.

What a learning experience this has been! [Writing the Personal Essay provides] a safe environment to express yourself and experiment with different styles of writing essays. I feel that I'm a much better, more confident writer because of this course. The readings for the course are also very helpful in shaping your writing style. Bottom line, take this course—you won't be disappointed! -Lori Mulligan

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