When an idea for a personal essay strikes, I don’t just jump for the laptop and write my heart out. I like to maul the topic over for a day, maybe even a week or longer. I want the essay to be publishable, so there are three big things I need to consider. 

Writing with emotion:

Is this essay TOO emotional. Say you just put your dog down. You pour your soul into an essay all about how he was your best friend. You write (with tears streaming down your face) about the tricks he did, how he cuddled you on the couch, etc. Emotions can cloud your judgement. Suddenly things become…well, unbalanced. You may forget your audience completely, and the essay may become too personal. Yes, it’s a personal essay, but you can never forget your audience. I like to wait a few months for the dust to settle, then write about the topic on a level everyone can relate to —more touching, and less like a rant or emotional trainwreck.

The outcome:

When I write an essay I want it to be relatable, but I want the reader to get something out of it as well. I want to make a connection with them, and I do this through creating emotion. I always tell people: “I want my essays to punch people in the heart.” Which basically means, I want them to laugh, cry, smile, get angry… I want them to reflect on what they’ve read. I feel like if you evoke emotion, you’ve done your job.

Is this good for me:

Popular online publications need content, and a lot of it. It creates traffic to their site. But not everything published should be published. In some instances, the more controversial, the more clicks, comments and shares it will receive. This is especially true for parent blogs/magazines. While being candid is an important part of personal essay writing, there’s a limit to what I’ll share. I don’t want it to come back to bite me later on in my career, no matter how widely it’s shared. 

And before I start writing, I want to know which publication I am sending my essay to. This way, I can read what they’ve published already, and I can tailor my essay to meet the same standards and style. I’m not just writing an essay and submitting it “shotgun” style, where I send it everywhere just hoping someone will pick it up. 

If you’ve got an essay topic tip, I’d love to hear it. Drop it in the comments below.