Blogtalk: From Journal to Personal Essay


Sheila Bender’s recent series of posts over on The Heart and Craft of Writing blog demonstrate how freewriting can help you get started writing personal essays. Like the journaling prompts I offer here, Sheila’s essay writing prompts ask us to open ourselves to exploration. She explains that writing an essay is, in and of itself, a journey in which we uncover what’s in our hearts and minds. You could say that journaling and the start of an essay are like twins, sharing a literary DNA.

The techniques she uses—giving ourselves a new physical perspective and then paying attention to our senses, using our imaginations, and finding inspiration from others’ words—can be used as journaling techniques, as well as to initiate essay writing.

Of course, journaling, because it is written only for your eyes, usually ends at the freewrite. You close your notebook and move forward into your day or week or month, and never look back. Or, if the issues raised during the freewrite seem important, you might decide to go deeper, ask more questions, and add to what you’ve written.

Writing a personal essay, however, means deciding that you want to share your exploration with others. It means continuing the journey and then crafting the exploration into a path that others can follow, experiencing your journey in your wake. If you want to read more about the art of personal essay writing, I also highly recommend The Art of Self by Steven Harvey posted over on Michael Steinberg’s blog.

If you have a chance, read Steven Harvey and Sheila Bender’s (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) articles. Then come back here and leave a comment.

Do you write personal essay? Why or why not? For those who do, what are your greatest art-of-essay challenges?

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