Writing Essays: Making the Personal Universal | Sari Botton | Skillshare

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Writing Essays: Making the Personal Universal

teacher avatar Sari Botton, I geek out over personal essays.

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Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      What is a Personal Essay?


    • 3.

      Example 1: Goodbye to All That


    • 4.

      Getting Started on Your Personal Essay


    • 5.

      Prompts for Story Generation


    • 6.

      Example 2: Lost and Found


    • 7.

      Connect the Personal to the Universal


    • 8.

      Exercise: Writing from your Convictions


    • 9.

      Example 3: The Love of My Life


    • 10.

      Exercise: Incorporating Questions


    • 11.

      Example 4: How to Write a Memoir While Grieving


    • 12.

      Exercise: What You Resist Persists


    • 13.

      Putting It All Together


    • 14.



    • 15.

      Pitching Your Essay


    • 16.

      Takeaways & Closing Thoughts


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About This Class

Don’t believe the occasional backlash/anti-hype: the personal essay category of writing is stronger than ever. When written well, these slices of memoir can be incredibly moving and relatable. They can generate awareness, identification, and empathy, and even lead to social change. 

Personal essays can also give new writers who have few, or even zero bylines a way to break in — because the one thing everyone is an authority on is their own experience. And when we write about our experiences with plenty of emotional detail, candor, and observation, they speak to readers, allowing them to identify with us.

In this class you’ll learn how to write personal essays in such a way that readers will relate to your story and be moved by it — whether or not their lives are anything like yours. I believe that no matter how different our backgrounds and experiences have been, there are aspects of our stories that can resonate among even those whose very different from us.

We’ll work with writing prompts and exercises that will help you to interpret your personal experiences in so-called “universal” ways, amplifying aspects readers will identify with. We’ll heighten that universality even further in places by stepping back in our writing and articulating the ideas, observations, and burning questions our stories illustrate — a great way to add another dimension and elevate a piece from a mere personal remembrance to something much more powerful and resonant.

In this class, I’ll guide you toward writing personal essays in which you’ll share moving stories and elucidate some of the most recognizable aspects of your experiences — essays that will truly resonate with others.

Some skills you will learn:

  • How to mine your memories and experiences to find the stories most worth sharing.
  • How to write those stories in compelling, relatable ways, from brain-dump-first-draft, to a polished draft you can submit to publications.
  • How to add depth and dimension to your essays by illuminating the bigger, or more “universal” ideas, observations and questions your experience illustrates.
  • How to edit your writing. 

Who is the class for? 

This class is for anyone who is interested in writing personal essays that are more than individual remembrances, and which have lasting resonance with readers. It can be helpful whether or not you have a lot of experience as a writer.


Why is the class useful?

This class — taught by the essays editor for Longreads and the editor of the popular anthologies Goodbye to All That and Never Can Say Goodbye — will help you add depth and dimension to your personal essays. This can make your writing more resonant for readers, and more sellable to publications. In addition, doing the exercises can help you make new sense of your own experiences and beliefs.


I will provide links to some classic essays by Joan Didion, Colson Whitehead, Cheryl Strayed, and Nicole Chung, along with some analysis of them. 

Meet Your Teacher

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Sari Botton

I geek out over personal essays.


Sari Botton is an NYC-expat writer and editor living in Kingston, NY. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times—including two Modern Love columns—Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, Women’s Wear Daily, W, The Billfold, The Rumpus, The Millions, Catapult, plus other publications, and assorted anthologies. 

She is the Essays Editor for Longreads, where she launched the Fine Lines series of essays on age and aging, and edited the award-winning anthology Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving & Leaving NY and its New York Times bestselling follow-up, Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for NY.

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1. Introduction: Sometimes I've felt like an alien from another planet who was sent here to get everything down. In recording my experiences and analyzing them, it's helped me to make sense of them, and then, when I share an essay and a reader contacts me and says, you just described my experience, it helps me to feel less alone and less like an alien. I don't look like an alien, but I am one. Welcome to my Skillshare class. I'm Sari Botton, a writer and editor specializing in personal essays. For the past few years, I've been the essays editor at Longreads, where I've also published a few pieces of my own. I've written for the New York Times, the Rumpus catapult, I'm also the editor of two popular essay anthologies about New York City: Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York and Never Can Say Good Bye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for New York. In this class, I'm going to teach you how to write a personal essay. You're going to learn how to take a story from your personal experience and turn it into a personal essay that resonates with readers whether or not they've had a life anything like yours. I'll be breaking down the essay writing process into doable steps. There will be writing exercises during which you will free write and generate material. We'll also be checking out examples of essays so that we can see how other authors put these principles to practice. One of the great things about personal essays is that they help people to connect and to feel like they're not alone because of the shared human experiences conveyed in them. Personal essays is a subject I geek out over, and so, I'm so excited to go on this journey with you. Let's dive in. 2. What is a Personal Essay?: Before we dive into learning how to write personal essays, we're going to talk a little bit about what is a personal essay? What is a personal essay? At its center, a personal essay has a personal narrative, a story, something that happened to you, that illustrates something you believe strongly or contains something that you want to explore and understand through writing. There are a great way to understand an aspect of your life by reading someone else's experience. They're also a great way to mind your own experiences and make sense of them. Plus, they're a great way to break in if you're a writer with very little experience. Who else is an expert on your life besides, you? Would often elevates a personal essay from just a mere anecdote is the way in which the writer interprets their experience. Our stories aren't just what happened to us, it's how we interpret them. It's how we make sense of them in the telling. As master essayist, Philip Lopate writes in his introduction to the art of the personal essay. "At the core of the personal essay is the supposition that there is a certain unity to human experience." There are different types of essays and different lengths. You can come at this so many different ways but I'm going to give you some basic guidelines for creating very simple, straightforward, personal essays. The word essay comes from the French, [inaudible] , which means to try or attempt. A personal essay is an attempt to understand your experience through writing about it. Is the personal universal? Anyone who has studied personal essay writing has come across the imperative to make the personal universal. In the recent years, there has been some pushback against this. Writer is saying, we all have different experiences, why should we work hard to make sure that other people can relate to us. But I really believe that all human experiences contain within them, aspects that are relatable and it's our job as essayists to find them and amplify them. I think that no matter how different our backgrounds are, we can all relate to each other in various ways. In this way, it makes the world smaller and more friendly. There are also some common questions we all live with and our essays can seek to either answer those questions or ask them. What will make our essays relatable to others is an attention to detail and a commitment to emotional honesty. Keep checking in with yourself to make sure that you're being really honest. But it can be effective to step back from the storytelling in your piece and comment directly on the ideas, observations, and questions that your piece is meant to illustrate. The things that are common in human experience. Now that you know what a personal essay is, in the next lesson, let's take a look at a really great example of one. 3. Example 1: Goodbye to All That: In this lesson, we're going to look at one of the most iconic essays of the 20th century written by Joan Didion, One of the greatest writers of the 20th century. The essay is about her experience coming to New York at 20 starry-eyed and leaving at 28 blurry-eyed. This essay is full of all the things that bring essays to life. Vivid imagery, scenes and emotional honesty, including the less flattering moments. Toward the end, she writes, "I hurt the people I cared about and insulted those I did not. I cut myself off from the one person I was closer to than any other." Didion also imparts universal wisdom from time to time. Before she even starts telling us her story, she stops and gives us her perspective on her experience. She opens the essay with, "It's easy to see the beginnings of things and harder to see the ends." It in steps back a few other times in the essay to link her experience to larger truths that we can all relate to. Things about living in New York City, about being young, and about being old. All of these observations she shares help the reader to better relate to her experience. Here are some of the ideas Didion shares throughout this piece, interspersed with her personal experience, she writes, "One of the mixed blessings of being 20 and 21 and even 23 is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary not withstanding has ever happened to anyone before." Later she writes, "Part of what I want to tell you is what it's like to be young in New York, how six-months can become eight-years with the deceptive ease of a film dissolve" and later, she writes, "It is often said that New York is a city for only the very rich and the very poor. It is less often said that New York is also at least for those of us who came there from somewhere else, a city for only the very young." Toward the end she relates her experience to a lesson. She Writes," it is distinctly possible to stay too long at the fair." Anyone who has ever tried to milk and experience for too long can relate to this idea whether or not they've ever stepped foot in New York City. I'm not saying it's necessary in every essay to spell out a lesson or a question you're trying to answer or your observations, but they can add another dimension to your personal experience, one that makes it so that readers can really relate. It's how you take your personal story and turn it into a personal essay that people can relate to. I highly recommend reading Joan Didion says Goodbye to All That. Notice as you're reading the way in which she weaves her observations with her personal experience. Now that we've taken a look at this essay in the next lesson, we'll talk about how you can get started writing your own essays. 4. Getting Started on Your Personal Essay: In this lesson, we're going to talk about some of the ways that you can get started writing your own essays and some of the tools you can use. You can come at writing essays from a few different angles. You can start with the story that you want to examine through your essay, or you can start with the idea or observation that you want to explore and then find the story that matches it. In this workshop, I'm going to share some writing prompts and exercises that will help you attack writing your personal essay from both of these angles. I recommend trying all the prompts, whether or not you have an essay started or even have finished one. The prompts and exercises are meant to do a few different things. They'll help you take inventory of your memories and your understandings of them. They'll also help you make sense of your points of view and your ideas. Above all, the prompts and exercises are meant to help you get your writing flowing. I recommend trying the prompts and exercises through what we call timed free writes. Basically, you set a timer for 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes, and then raise the timer to get your thoughts out. You can set an end timer or you can set the timer function on your phone, and then you just write. The good thing about timed free writes is that they keep the editor brain out of the room. You want just your writer brain, and you want to feel free to dump what's in your mind on the page without worrying about whether it's any good, or whether your grammar is right, or whether you're spelling is bad, you just want to get the story out and that's why we race against a timer. We're also fighting perfectionism and inhibition. What we're going for here is an uninhibited brain dump, so that you can produce what writer Anne Lamott calls a shitty first draft. It's what you need to do so that you have something to polish later. Later on, you can do whatever you want to your brain dump, but first you need it to exist. Timed free writes can also help you struggle the panic that comes from looking at a blank page. If you're racing the timer, you can't stop to think. You can't stop to worry about, what am I going to put on the page? You just have to do it. Now that you have a sense of how we're going to approach our first draft, let's take a look in the next lesson at some exercises and prompts. 5. Prompts for Story Generation: This lesson, we are going to do some writing prompts that are going to help us develop a first draft from the story generating angle. You might recall that earlier, I talked about the two different ways you can come at this; through story generation or through idea and point of view generation. It's kind of easier to get started from the story angle. Let's go with that. Here are a few writing prompts. You'll find a list of more of them in class resources. 1, write about a life defining experience that seemed to divide your life into before and after. 2, write about an experience that made you change your mind about something. 3, write about something you thought you wanted, that in hindsight, you're glad you didn't get. These prompts are general enough that anybody can write from them. They really get to the heart of many common experiences. How many of us haven't had an experience in our life that divides it into before and after? It helps you to analyze your experiences from different angles. You can try one or all of the prompts. I recommend trying all of them. I would go through them one-by-one, setting a timer for 20 minutes for each one. You don't need to do them all before the next lesson. Maybe just try one or two. But I recommend them all over time because they will generate more material for you to work with. Just pick a prompt, set the timer and start writing, and don't stop writing until the timer is done. Don't think about whether it's good or bad, or how your grammar is, or whether you are spelling things correctly. Just write. Just get the story down. Later when it comes time for you to choose one of your three writes to develop into a personal essay. I recommend choosing an experience that you have a little bit of distance from, a little bit of emotional distance, and maybe time. You will write a better essay with better analysis, if you have had time to process your experience. As they say at the Moth, you want to write from your scars, not from your wounds. That will allow you to offer better perspective on your experience. It also keeps the reader from having to worry about you. Before moving on to the next lesson where I'll share another example of a personal essay. I recommend that you try one or two or even three of the writing prompts. Do a free write for 20 minutes on each. It'll help you understand better the information that I'm sharing in the future lessons. Once you have a free write under your belt, let's move on to the next lesson, where we will look at another example of a really great personal essay. 6. Example 2: Lost and Found: In this lesson, we're going to look at an essay by Carlson whitehead called, Lost and Found. On November 11th, 2001, Carlson Whitehead published this piece in the New York Times Magazine. It was two months after the terrorist attacks of 911. This essay is sort of an essay opinion hybrid. It's built around its hypotheses. Here are some of the lines from the essay that speak to anyone's experience of New York City as opposed to just Carlson Whitehead's. He writes, ''No matter how long you have been here, you are a New Yorker, the first time you say, 'That used to be Munsey's' or 'that used to be the Tick Toc lounge'". He writes, "You start building your private New York the first time you lay eyes on it". He writes, "There are 8 million Naked Cities in this Naked City, the dispute and disagree. The New York City you live in is not my New York City." He writes, "The city knows you better than any living person because it has seen you when you are alone." He writes, "Maybe we become New Yorkers the day we realize that New York will go on without us." It's a great example of what we're going to learn in the next lesson about generating essays from the point of view or observation angle. Where Joan Didion essay, Goodbye To All That, came more from the story angle. This essay really focuses on point of view and it's something we're about to learn. 7. Connect the Personal to the Universal: In this lesson, we're going to talk about how writers connect their stories to a bigger picture. Some of the best writers can do it without spelling out the bigger picture that they are attaching their personal experience to. Others stop within their storytelling to spell out for you what it is they're trying to illustrate. They break down explicitly the ideas that they are trying to convey similarly, to how Carlson Whitehead did in Lost and Found. They might convey a thesis in the intro or at the end, or somewhere in the middle. You don't have to do this. But it can be an effective way of making a piece more resonant. In the next lesson, we're going to do an exercise that will help you connect your story to something larger. 8. Exercise: Writing from your Convictions: In this lesson, we're going to do a writing exercise, that is going to help you connect your personal story to something larger. We are going to generate an essay beginning with the idea or a point of view that you want to explore. We'll worry about the story later. As I've mentioned before, there are a couple of different ways to come at generating personal essays. You can start with a story, or you can start with a point of view, and then illustrate it. This exercise will help you home in on some strongly held beliefs, or beliefs that you've abandoned. Unlike the prompts we did before which are each individual, this is a process with several steps, so follow along. This exercise, I call writing from your convictions. One, list, 5-10, personal convictions, strongly held beliefs or personal stances, or alternatively, choose a list of things you've changed your mind about. Two, pick the one of those that you feel most energized about. First, write for five minutes about that conviction. Then, make a list of the experiences in your life that have brought you to that conviction or helped you to change your mind about it. You'll want to set a timer for five minutes for this one. Three, pick the one experience on the list, that is most significant to you and write the story of it. You'll want to set a timer for 20 minutes for that. Finally, try to breed together, the part about your conviction with the personal history. Write a few lines or a paragraph, introducing the conviction and how this story illustrates it. This exercise is a little more complicated than the writing prompts we did earlier, but I recommend trying it. It's really worthwhile. It can help you write something that is more than just a remembrance and more like a personal essay. In the next lesson, we'll look at a personal essay in which the writer really blends the art of storytelling and sharing of a point of view. 9. Example 3: The Love of My Life: In this lesson, we're going to look at an essay by Cheryl Strayed that appeared in a literary magazine called "The sun." It's called "The love of my life." It is a breathtaking essay about Cheryl's efforts to become an adult in the wake of her mother's passing. It perfectly blends the personal and universal. Cheryl Strayed achieves this in equal measure through storytelling and the sharing of her observations about her very human experience, which we can all relate to whether or not we've had the same experience. Strayed bravely lays bare the ways in which she hurt herself and the others around her as she was grieving. She gets addicted to heroin, she cheats on her husband, she becomes pregnant with another man's baby. Several times throughout the piece, she stops to convey larger ideas about grief and grieving and how they affect us all. She also writes about how grief can turn us into the worst versions of ourselves. Take this moment when strayed recalls a forbidden kiss in a bar with a man who is not her husband. She writes, "When I was a child, I witnessed a leaf unfurl in a single motion one second it was a fist, the next an open hand. I never forgot it, seeing so much happens so fast and this was like that, the end of one thing, the beginning of another: My life as a slut." In that moment, Cheryl Strayed conveys the personal and universal seamlessly. Here she is on our cultural aversion to grief. She writes, "We are not allowed this. We are allowed to be deeply into basketball or Buddhism, or Star Trek or jazz, but we are not allowed to be deeply sad. Grief is a thing that we are encouraged to let go of, to move on from, and we are told specifically how this should be done." Later on in the essay, Cheryl Strayed goes on about how our culture treats all kinds of grief the same way, and she asks a question. She asks, "Dying is not your girlfriend moving to Ohio. Grief is not the day after your neighbors funeral when you felt extremely blue, it is impolite to make this distinction, we act as if all losses are equal. It is un-American to behave otherwise. We live in a democracy of sorrow, every emotion felt is validated and judge to be as true as any other. But what does this do to us? This refusal to quantify love, loss, grief." She seems to be suggesting that this inability to cope with grief has affected the choices she's made that she has illustrated in the essay, I recommend reading "The love of my life" by Cheryl Strayed in "The Sun" magazine. It's an incredible piece. It will move you and it'll also illustrate for you a really good balance of personal and universal in a personal essay. Just as Cheryl Strayed asked a question in her essay for the reader to ponder. In our next exercise, we are going to ask some questions that we want our readers to either know the answers to or find them for themselves. 10. Exercise: Incorporating Questions: In this lesson, we're going to talk about questions that you seek to either answer or ask in your personal essay. One way to zero in on the aspects of your story that are going to be most identifiable to readers is to ask yourself, what questions do I seek to either ask or answer by sharing this particular story? Another approach is to think about a question that you ruminate on regularly and let that lead you to a story. Let's try this exercise. Like the previous exercise, this one has several steps that you'll need to take one at a time. Number 1, think of three questions you ruminate on regularly. Two, choose one of those, and take five minutes to quickly write what the question is, a brief synopsis of the story of where that question originated in your life, and what the possible conflicting answers might be. You'll want to set a timer for five minutes for this part of the exercise. Three, now zero in on the most critical juncture of the story behind that question. In 20 minutes, make it its own story. Take us through it in exquisite detail. Four, this is the key. Include a few sentences or a paragraph informing readers about this particular question you wrestle with, and how this story illustrates it. I recommend trying this exercise before moving on to the next lessons. It'll help you understand where we're going. In the next lesson, we're going to look at another essay that's also a great example of blending the personal and universal. 11. Example 4: How to Write a Memoir While Grieving: In this lesson, we are going to look at an essay by Nicole Chung called How to Write a Memoir while Grieving. It's an essay that appeared on Longreads and then I got to work with her on. In how to write a memoir while grieving, Nicole Chung writes about losing her father just as she was putting the finishing touches on her memoir, All You Can Ever Know. Her memoir is about being a Korean-American adoptee, raised by conservative white parents. The piece is candid and heart-wrenching. In focusing on very, very specific physical and emotional details, Chung conveys her experience in a way that we can all relate whether or not we have lives, anything like hers. She also manages to address some big truths about writing about family and being adopted. She writes, "It's never been easier to figure out how to write about my family. My families. My mom and dad certainly didn't know what they were getting into when they acquired blank journals and old electric typewriters and secondhand computers that could barely run a word processing program without crashing, all so I could get my stories down. When you're raising a child, when she's yours and you can't picture the alternative and you're just doing the best you can, you're probably not thinking about some far-off day when she might publish it all in a memoir. " On being adopted she writes, "At some point you learned that the whole point of life for most creatures is to pass on their genes before they die. In seventh grade biology class, our teacher who had a PhD, a species of beetle named after him, and a strong philosophical streak, told us almost as an aside, that for humans, it was one way we made peace with our eventual end. A way of grasping at immortality. We wouldn't live on, but our offspring, our genes, would. Even back then, I remember thinking that's not going to work out from my parents." It's amazing the way in which Nicole Chung takes an experience that's very specific to her and makes it something we can all relate to. She connects it to bigger ideas and universal experience. I recommend reading Nicole Chung's essay, How to Write a Memoir While Grieving on Longreads. It's a great read. It'll give you some ideas about how to tackle your own balance of personal and universal in your essay. In the next lesson, we'll do our last exercise before moving on to putting our pieces together from our free rights. 12. Exercise: What You Resist Persists: In this lesson, we're going to do an exercise that examines some of the things that come up for us over and over again. The things that we encounter again and again in life, whether internally or out in the world, make for great essay fodder because they're often the same things other people are experiencing again and again. Lets try this exercise. I call it issues issues or what you resist persists. One, list three issues you've been wrestling with for all or much of your life. Two, choose one and make a bulleted timeline of all the significant events in your life related to this issue. Three, write on one of those events, or connect two or more of them in a story, you want to set your timer for 20 minutes for this one. Four, write a few sentences or a paragraph speaking specifically about the issue and how it is illustrated by the story you are writing. I recommend doing this exercise at least once. It's one of the more healing exercises because you're really exploring challenges that you've been wrestling with for a long time and making sense of them in a way that you can better understand them and also a reader can. Congratulations, you have now completed all of the writing exercises in this class. If there's one that really spoke to you, try it again. If there's one that you skipped, try that one. You can use these prompts and exercises again and again. I use them all the time for my own writing. In the next lesson, we're going to move on to another idea, which is how to take our free writes and put them together as essays. 13. Putting It All Together: In this lesson, we're going to talk about how to put together essays from your free writes. In this workshop, I've had you generating all material. Now it's time to flesh it out and put it together. You're going to flesh out your pieces with as much precise detail as you can, using very specific nouns and verbs. Did you go somewhere or did you sprint there? Did you get dressed or did you step into your lucky jeans? Fill in what you've written with as much vivid detail as you can. Later, you can worry about reining it in. Next, you're going to weave together some of the pieces that you've generated. In this workshop if you've done all the exercises, you've probably generated enough material for at least one essay. If you haven't, you can go back and try more of the prompts or exercises or do them on different topics, so that you have plenty of material to work with. There's no one right way to put any collection of pieces together. You have to experiment and try and just see how it works. You'll need to start with a rough draft and keep refining from there. Sometimes you need to refine things several times. There are people who refine the same essay for years before they put it out into the world. Writing and publishing essays is a slow process. So if you're in a hurry to get published, slowdown because the best essays are written and developed and polished over time. Here are some guidelines for constructing personal essays from your free writes. Tip number 1, most essays work best in chronological order. When how the story unfolds is more interesting than the outcome, it can be useful to begin with the outcome and then tell the story of how it came to be. Tip 2, have a clear beginning, middle and end. Make sure your story has a beginning, middle and end. Try to strike a balance between showing through scenes and dialogue and telling through exposition. Tip 3, be fair to others who appear in the story. Be fair to the other people in your story and make sure you're taking responsibility for your side of things. Blur identities when you can and consider whether there are identifying details of the story that aren't really necessary to move it forward or make your point. Tip 4, don't over-explain. Avoid explaining too much. Leave some room for the reader's imagination and be mindful of the reader's attention span. Tip number 5, take time between drafts to clear your mind. Take some time between drafts so that your mind is a bit more fresh when you come back to it. Tip number 6, read your piece aloud to see how it sounds. Read your piece aloud to get an idea of how it sounds, that will help you edit. Tip 7, get feedback from trusted readers. If you don't already have a writers group where you trade feedback on pieces, think about forming one. Be sure to find like-minded writers who you trust to give useful feedback. Take your time putting your essays together. You might find that you have to move pieces around to make more sense or to create suspense. Play with it. Let other writers give you feedback that helps you know what edits you might want to make. Once you've put together your first rough draft, it's time to revise. In the next lesson, we're going to talk all about revision. 14. Revising: Congrats. You've come this far. You've completed a first draft of an essay. For some people, that's enough. Now we're going to talk a little bit about revising in case you might want to publish your piece or share it with others. Dorothy Parker famously said, ''I don't like to write. I like having written.'' Well, now that you've done a bunch of the free writes and also put together a draft, you have written. Now is the time when we switch from writer brain to editor brain. When we were using the writer brain, we were just generating material, emptying our minds of our ideas. In editor brain, we look to refine our thoughts and ideas and stories, and that's what we're thinking about now. As I've said before, writing and publishing essays is not something you do quickly. It's something you develop over time. You develop each piece over time. Allow yourself plenty of time to go over and over and over your essay. Moving pieces around, cutting unnecessary words, cutting unnecessary anecdotes, really zeroing in on the essentials of your story. One of the biggest mistakes new writers make is releasing essays before they're really done. We call these essays half-baked. I have published more than my share of them, and I'm really glad that most of them can no longer be found online. Now, I take my time, sometimes days, sometimes weeks, sometimes months, even years before I put an essay out into the world and make sure that I feel really good about it. Even though I know that if I try to publish it in editor is also going to make some edits, makes some changes. I like to first make sure that I feel really good about my version of my essay. Give your writing plenty of time to develop. Revise, revise, revise. Omit anything that doesn't either move the story along or add insight. When you're done, share it with readers you trust who can give you helpful feedback. Then when you feel ready, you might want to submit it to a publication. Here are some general tips for the revision process. Revising can be one of the more challenging aspects of working on essays, especially if you're new to it. But take your time and you'll find your way. There's a term writers use that is often attributed to Faulkner, "murder your darlings". That means let go of some of the pieces of your writing that you are really attached to, but don't really serve the story. It can be really hard if you've never done this before, but that doesn't mean that you can't do it. Just take your time, keep rereading your piece, and when you get to the place that you really can't see it anymore because you've been going over it so many times, share it with trusted writer friends who can give you the feedback you need. Over time you can develop your own personal editor within your head, but it takes time and it takes doing so, keep at it. In the next lesson, we'll talk about the final step in this process, which is pitching your essays to publications online and in print. 15. Pitching Your Essay: Pitching your work to online and print publications is a whole endeavor onto itself. It's not as simple as just sending your essay foreign wide, although if you're excited about it, you might just want to do that. Here are some essential guidelines for pitching your pieces and sending them to publications. Tip 1, before submitting, familiarize yourself with each publication and its submission guidelines. Before you submit it anything, you'll not only want to read each publication submissions guidelines, but you'll also want to read the publications carefully. Sending the wrong piece to a publication is a very rookie move, and you want to avoid that. Keep in mind that you're trying to build relationships with publications, and so you really want to be mindful of what they're looking for before you reach out to them. Tip 2, when publications allow it, do simultaneous multiple submissions. Once you've familiarized with some of the publications you're interested in and their guidelines see whether those publications allow simultaneous multiple submissions. Meaning they don't mind whether you are also sending your piece for consideration to multiple editors and multiple publications at the same time. As an editor, I encourage writers to do multiple submissions because I receive so many more stories than I can publish. I don't want to keep writers from having their work see the light of day but many editors feel differently. Make sure you know, before you send. Tip 3, getting published can take many tries, don't be discouraged by rejections. If an editor passes on your piece, don't be discouraged. There can be any number of reasons your essay isn't chosen. It might be that it's on a topic that's recently been covered in that publication. It can be that there have been too many voices like yours in the mix recently. It can be that particular story just doesn't resonate with the editor. Try them again down the line with another piece. It can take time to get traction with your writing. Be patient and persistent, start small, establishing your byline at smaller publications, for a variety of publications. Don't start off thinking you're going to land a piece at the new worker, and if you can't, you're giving up. Over time, you'll build a portfolio and improve your writing as you go. Tip 4, keep thinking that no, just means not now, and keep submitting. Keep submitting, and over time, you'll have a collection of airlines. Whether or not you sell your essay, keep writing, keep going through the steps that you learned in this class, and you will have more and more essays to submit to publications. Congratulations, you've gone through all the steps, and now you probably have at least one personal essay that you're ready to submit or that you've already submitted. Thank you for taking my class. I hope that it inspires you to write and publish many personal essays that people can relate to, whether or not you've completed a piece, you can go back through these steps again and again. They're really useful, I use them all the time in my own writing, and I hope that you'll use them to write and publish personal essays that people can relate to. Here are some guidelines to remember. One, right, with as much emotional, honesty and sensual detail as you possibly can. Two, make note of what larger ideas, observations, and burning questions your story illustrates and point those things out in thoughtful, identifiable ways. Three, weave your pieces together into thoughtful, moving essays. Four, refine, refine, refine before sending them out into the world. Five, post your work in your class project. Thank you again for taking my class. I can't wait to read what you write. 16. Takeaways & Closing Thoughts: Congratulations. You've gone through all the steps, and now you probably have at least one personal essay, that you're ready to submit, or that you've already submitted. Thank you for taking my class. I hope that it inspires you to write and publish many personal essays, that people can relate to. Whether or not you've completed a piece, you can go back through these steps again and again. They're really useful, I use them all the time in my own writing, and I hope that you'll use them to write and publish personal essays that people can relate to. Here are some guidelines to remember. One, write with as much emotional, honesty and sensual detail as you possibly can. Two, make note of what larger ideas, observations, and burning questions your story illustrates, and point those things out in thoughtful, identifiable ways. Three, weave your pieces together into thoughtful, moving essays. Four, refine before sending them out into the world, and five, post your work in your class project. Thank you again for taking my class. I can't wait to read what you write.