How to Use Life Story and Personal Experience in an Essay

Last week I wrote two posts related to memoir, 10 Ways to Use Life Story in Nonfiction Writing and How to Use Life Story or Personal Experience in Articles. Today, I’d like to add to these with a post about how to use life story and personal experience in essay. For the memoirist, it makes total sense to branch off into personal essay since this form lends itself well to anecdote and vignette.

Essays tend to be short pieces written from an author’s personal point of view about a subject.  While many types of essays exist,  the personal essay offers those who like to write about life story and personal experience a chance to describe and expound upon these things.  Indeed, they can also analyze their experiences and offer information from their own lives that might prove useful to others in a much more artistic manner than an article allows. However, unlike memoirs, essays tend not to read like fiction, although they can contain dialogue.

I like to write personal essays in a three-part or four-part format. Begin with an anecdote or vignette. Set the stage. Describe a scene. Depict an issue with which you are struggling. Tell a story.

Next, explain why that experience or story was important to you. How did it impact you. Are you still struggling with that particular experience? What did you learn. How did you deal with it? How did it change you?

Now, can you discuss why the experience might be important for your reader? How can your life story and experience relate to them? What can they glean from it? How can they put your lessons to use in their lives?

Last, take the subject broader than just you or your reader. Find a universal lesson or principle you can discuss. End with a paragraph or two that makes your story appeal to more people or makes it relevant to anyone anywhere. Or tell another story that drives this point home…or that simply drives your point home.

Pretty simple really.

Then go to Writer’s Market and look for magazines that publish personal essays or Google some of your favorite magazines that publish personal essays and find out how to submit yours. Actually, it’s a good idea to find out a magazine’s writer’s guidelines prior to beginning to write your personal essay. That way you’ll know how many words they require before you start writing and you’ll discover if they have any special needs. Then you can cater your article to their specifications. In this way you stand a better chance of getting your personal essay published.

Profile photo of Nina Amir About Nina Amir

Nina Amir, the Inspiration to Creation Coach, inspires writers and bloggers to create published products and careers as authors. Additionally, she helps her clients and readers achieve their potential, fulfill their purpose and make a positive and meaningful difference with their words. She is the author of How to Blog a Book, The Author Training Manual, and Creative Visualization for Writers, all published by Writer’s Digest Books. As a hybrid author, she also has published 17 books independently. She is a nonfiction book editor and doctor, proposal consultant, and an Author Coach and Trainer as well as a Book and Blog Coach. Some of her clients have sold 320,000+ copies of their books and been published by major publishing houses. Nina also is an award winning blogger and journalist, international speaker and founder of National Nonfiction Writing Month, also known as the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge, and the Nonfiction Writers’ University. Also a Certified High Performance Coach, Nina strives to help creative people Achieve More Inspired Results personally and professionally.


  1. this is good idea.


  1. […] posts in the past on the  topic  of how to write an essay, such as this one, this one, and this one, […]

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