Personal Essays: Good for the Soul and Good for the Writer


by Andrea Tate

When I was a kid, my family made fun of me because I had a journal at my bedside. It wasn’t your typical youth journal, no bright colors, and no lock and key— just a simple spiral notebook. It was open for anyone to see. I had nothing to hide in this journal. My journal was a list of what I needed to do that day—a way for me to empty out all the details that were running around in my head. The first thing on the list was “Wake Up!” which my mother found hysterical. “Won’t you already be awake when you read #1?” She was right, but I didn’t care, it was part of my process.

My bedside list was a system in which I could makes sense of my thoughts, a way to work through things.  A personal essay has the same function. It helps the writer assimilate the machinations of their mind. In G. Lynn’s book Writing and Being, he talks about personal writing and how it  “is essential to finding our own voice in a society that is always calling us away from ourselves, always telling us the answers are out there somewhere.” As creative writers, many of the answers must be found inside us. Writing personal essays assist all genres of writers. Whether you are writing in fiction, poetry, screenplays, or young adult, personal essays will help you hone in on your creative ideas. Fiction writers can increase their visibility and platform by having essays on a topic related, or unrelated to their current novel. A published personal essay is the perfect addition to an author’s media campaign. 

Personal writing is good for clearing your monkey mind, coming to terms with a stressful situation, or creating essays worthy of publication. Personal essays are like a teacher’s chalkboard. Ideas are written on it, comprehended, and then erased for the next lesson. Writing a personal essay can be a self-lesson. Studies have shown that writing your thoughts and feelings produce beneficial mental health results because it helps to calm the mind.

Even if you aren’t a nonfiction writer, writing a personal essay on an idea you are tackling in your novel, poem, or dialogue can help you sort out the minutiae. Personal essays are not only a genre, but they are a clearing house for the mind. If you feel stuck and don’t know what to write about, perhaps just use the prompt, “What’s bugging me today?” You might surprise yourself with the first draft of your next essay, or at the very least you’ll get that Trump rant off of your chest.

If you would like to investigate more about the personal essay, check out Andrea’s online class the begins Sept. 11th: Learn from the Best: Redefining the Personal Essay with Andrea Tate

And click below to see one of Andrea’s personal essays on the Huffington Post:

Andrea Tate is an adjunct writing professor at Antioch University, Santa Barbara. Her essays have appeared in the Huffington Post, Role/Reboot, A Daily Dose of Lit, and Bleed. Andrea’s story “You” was published in the anthology Extract(s) in 2014, and is part of a memoir currently in progress. Andrea is an award-winning theatre director and an advocate for theatre arts in early education. She teaches acting and nonfiction writing workshops for Hillcrest Center for the Arts in Thousand Oaks. Andrea received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Antioch University Los Angeles.