From Writer's Relief staff:
The personal essay is more than a diary entry for the masses. You probably don’t want people to read your journal as is, but chances are, having a literary magazine say that they want to publish your feelings, opinions, and observations sounds pretty darn good. The trick is to move past the egocentric style of a journal entry to create a narrative tale others can relate to. Here are four tips that we have found successful in getting editors to say, “Yes!” to your submission.
Brevity and precision. In these modern days, people have a tough time focusing their attention for too long. We get involved with something and then a TV show comes on, or you get sidetracked by a message on your computer, or…you have a wicked hangnail that needs to be picked. Your personal essay should be under 3,500 words—and we state this adamantly. This is, apparently, the absolute most attention that the modern human can give to a piece of writing (man, we’re lazy sometimes). Though you may want to ramble on about conflict in the Middle East, or your addiction to gummy bears, it is better to establish your goal and get to it quickly. The shorter the work, the more focused your presentation. Thus, the better you keep the readers’ interest. Now, put down that gummy bear.
Get with it! The world is one big, constant story. Tap into it. Stay fresh with current events, and give us your take on them. Personal essays that take on popular news stories are especially interesting. We spend a lot of time listening to broadcast journalists in the world telling us their opinions; don’t you think it’s time for yours to be heard, in your own voice?
Fresh insight. We all have our own train of thought, our own analysis. The personal essay is great because you can lend your perspective to others. Readers can agree or disagree, but either way they are learning something new about themselves. That’s a great feeling for both the writer and reader. So, dive into what you’re writing about. Analyze every nook and cranny of it, and give us your fresh take. There’s almost nothing more satisfying than reading new insights because they can change our perceptions, which can change us. But don’t hypnotize us—and don’t preach at us.
Don’t be too self-involved. Remember: Yes, you are writing this for yourself, but you’re also writing it for others to relate to and to find a common ground. Don’t just delve deeper into your life’s specificities. Think about those friends who just seem to always talk about themselves and about what happened in their day, and about their kids, and their job, and their…blah, blah, blah. Do you sit in anticipation of hearing about those people’s stories? I’m going to guess no (unless you’re Oprah and getting paid to). So why would anyone want to invest in your essay if you’re spewing out personal information and readers have absolutely no way of relating? They wouldn’t. Involve all of us, and we will read with vigor and excitement!
Now, go submit, submit, submit. Find literary magazines that are partial to what you’re writing about, or to your style. Practice these tips and hone your voice. People will want to read what you have to say. We’re all a bunch of walking opinions. As long as those opinions and stories are presented in a relatable way, there will always be a market for them. Writer’s Relief has seen this work time and time again.
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