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Essay Writers Workshop

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of sitting on a few freelance writing panels at the San Francisco Writers Conference. Beyond questions about pay, building a portfolio or pitching reported articles (a subject I’ve written on in depth), I was struck by the number of questions about personal essays and submitting personal essays.

Of course, such interest in personal essays makes sense. They’re a more literary form than journalistic writing, and a good way for folks who are writing memoirs to practice concision. Even more important, however: They’re an excellent way to break into a publication for writers with few prior clips (journo-speak for published articles that serve as samples of your work) to their name.

Without robust writing samples of articles published in reputable venues, it can be difficult to get your foot in the door at a new publication. But because personal essays present your full work up front and don’t require approval from an editor before writing the piece, they can be a terrific vehicle to get an in with an editor. Once the piece is published and you’ve developed a personal relationship with that editorial staff, you can then approach them with ideas for reported pieces, because you’ve already demonstrated your writing chops. You can also catalog that personal essay in your portfolio as a work sample to reference when you pitch other publications.

All that said, there are a few important things to know before you start:

Submit personal essays on spec.

To submit an essay on spec (short for “on speculation”) means to submit a finished, written and polished piece—as opposed to the few short paragraphs in which you would try to sell an idea in a standard article pitch. The obvious downside is that you’re stuck writing the entire thing beforehand, on your own dime, without any certainty the piece will sell. That said, personal essays are a great opportunity to show off your distinct voice as a writer. Editors will be more likely to consider your essay based on its storytelling merits alone, instead of on your portfolio of past work (or lack thereof).

Use small moments to convey big ideas.

An important thing to keep in mind when actually penning a personal essay is that they require a different approach than a full-fledged memoir or a reported piece. The most successful personal essays are built around small snapshots of moments that come together to express a greater theme. Consider approaching such writing with a healthy balance of anecdote and analysis. You’re not just telling a story about yourself, but providing context as to how your personal experiences contribute to a greater cultural conversation.

Look beyond literary journals.

Lit journals don’t have a monopoly on excellent personal essays. In fact, personal essays have a strong tradition in magazines and newspapers. Today there are many fantastic venues, both print and online, in which to share your experiences. Here are links to the submission pages for eight of my favorites:

  1. Vox First Person
  2. Salon
  3. Narratively
  4. New York Times Modern Love
  5. The Rumpus
  6. The Sun
  7. Creative Nonfiction
  8. Writer’s Digest 5-Minute Memoir

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This post is part of a series offreelance writing-related postsfromWriter’s Digest Managing Editor Tyler Moss. In addition to working with new submissions and a regular stable of freelance contributors toWD, his own freelance credits includeConde Nast Traveler, The Atlantic, OutsideandNew Yorkmagazines.

Follow Tyler on Twitter @tjmoss11.

 

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Essay & Opinion Writing

Do you enjoy sharing your viewpoints? What do you think of, say, global warming or the latest water-cooler TV show or the forgotten value of handkerchiefs? No topic is too major or minor to warrant exploration. There are many places to air your views—magazines, newspapers, websites, blogs, books—and many forms to encapsulate them.
 
People will be eager to hear you out…if you know how to elucidate your thoughts better than the average loudmouth on the bus. Here you’ll learn about the leading forms of viewpoint writing—personal essay, lyric essay, op-eds, reviews, and others—as well as writing craft and how to market your work.
 
Whatever you have to say, we’ll show you how to say it effectively and compellingly.

Notes

A personal essay is similar to a memoir; both incorporate elements from the writer’s life. But a personal essay focuses more on the viewpoint, and a memoir focuses more on the story. Gotham also offers courses on Memoir Writing and an Intensive on Personal Essay Writing.

Read More

“”

A great overview and a chance to try your hand at a variety of essay styles.

Nonna Noto

retired economist

Essay & Opinion Writing | Level I

10-week Workshop

NYC info, tuition: $425 (returning students: $395)
Online info, tuition: $409 (returning students: $379)
Registration fee $25, paid once per term

One-on-One tuition: $1745Request consultation

Learn More

This course gives you a firm grounding in the basics of essay/opinion writing craft and gets you writing an essay or opinion piece (or two). Course components:

  • Lectures
  • Writing exercises
  • Workshopping of student projects (each student presenting work two times)

Essay & Opinion I is for beginners or anyone who wants to brush up on the fundamentals. Students must be 18 years or older.

View Syllabus

3.00 CEUs

Tour an Online Class
Explore One-on-One Options

Essay & Opinion Writing | Level I

One-day Intensive

NYC info, tuition: $150
Registration fee $25, paid once per term

One-on-One tuition: $300Request consultation

Learn More

The NYC One-day Intensives are seven-hour crash courses, giving you brief lectures that hit the high-points and writing exercises that let you immediately try your hand at what you’ve learned. Arrive in the morning with a desire to learn; leave in the evening as a more knowledgeable writer.

Intensives are open for writers of any level. Students must be 18 years or older.

Students may reschedule a One-day Intensive one time.

Essay & OpinionIntensive topics include: personal essay, reviews, op-ed pieces, voice, purpose and meaning, getting published.

Explore One-on-One Options

Essay & Opinion Writing | Level II

10-week Workshop

NYC info, tuition: $425 (returning students: $395)
Online info, tuition: $409 (returning students: $379)
Registration fee $25, paid once per term

One-on-One tuition: $1745Request consultation

Learn More

This course helps you sharpen your skills at essay/opinion craft and work toward completion of one or two essay or opinion pieces. Writers often repeat Essay & Opinion II to continue their projects. Course components:

  • Lectures
  • Writing exercises
  • Workshopping of student projects (each student presenting work two times)

Prerequisite: Essay & OpinionI (10-week), or the equivalent.

View Syllabus

3.00 CEUs

Tour an Online Class
Explore One-on-One Options

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