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Axing the first paragraph entirely often works for me, but you should do whatever it takes to make sure you and your readers hit the ground running, not stuck in neutral.“Many writers forget the all-important basic writing advice ‘show, don’t tell,'” says Louise Sloan, deputy editor for Brown Alumni Magazine.
“Make your point through personal anecdotes.” Midge Raymond, longtime writing instructor and co-founder of Ashland Creek Press, agrees that personal stories are a perfect vehicle for your point.
“Personal essay writers need to keep in mind that readers want to be told a story,” she says.
“People tend to write personal essays in which they’re either the hero or the villain, but most of us are squarely in the middle, which creates an opportunity for a narrative as unexpected as real life,” says personal essays editor Sarah Hepola.
“I love it when a writer says, ‘I thought you were the one to blame.
But don’t confuse looking for truth with trying to make yourself feel better, warns Jones.
One of the most common mistakes he finds is “when people write to justify their own behavior or opinion, rather than to explore something they don’t understand.” And don’t settle for easy answers.
“Figure out where the most interesting parts end and tie it off there.” Paula Derrow, writing instructor and editorial consultant agrees.
“The biggest mistake is that people try to squish 20 years of their life into five pages instead of focusing in on specific events and vivid details,” she says.
“The conclusions you eventually reach may seem like a given to you now, but if you jump straight to them, you’ll short pedal the amount of work you had to do to get there and rob the reader of what’s interesting about your story,” he explains.
Unlike television movies, personal essays don’t have to be filled with tragedy to engage an audience.