What do you think of when you hear the word ‘personal essay’? Let the author tell you how alluring non-fiction essay writing can be in this essay below.
A personal essay could be anything from a portal that beckons its readers to come hither and disclose the magical world around us or part of a silly limerick. Usually, a good non-fiction essay acts as a flickering candle inside a dimly lit room, illuminating the hidden corners of our existence and experience and drawing us into the author’s innermost musings. Through the art of the personal essay, a writer can cast aside the armor that fiction provides and invite us to walk alongside them in the uncharted planes of their thoughts, memories, and emotions. This form of writing, pioneered by the likes of Montaigne and taken forward by the pens and keyboards of modern essayists, is a testament to the timeless allure of storytelling that is deeply personal yet ubiquitously resonant.
In this essay, we shall delve into the intricacies of personal essays while unraveling the authors’ minds and the readers’, i.e., our connections, thus proving that no matter where life takes us, there exists a permanent thread of shared humanity.
The Intimate Connection: Author and Reader
One of the most defining characteristics of the personal essay is the close connection concocted between the writer and the reader. This connection, however, is rooted in the writer’s ability to personify a personal and relatable voice to at least a special section of readers. Through the use of the first-person perspective, the writers can involve the reader in one’s inner world, sharing personal experiences and subsequent emotions with unreserved honesty. This leads to a display of vulnerability that allows readers to not only understand the author’s viewpoint but also at times see themselves being reflected or called out in the words.
By letting go of their own joys, fears, hopes, and regrets into the written word, essayists can forge emotional bonds with the readers. Identifying the author’s struggles and triumphs and carrying a sense of empathy is characteristic of the bond at the centre of powerful essay writing.
Themes and Diversity in Personal Essays
Personal essays are a canvas upon which a wide range of themes can be explored. From themes of identity, self-exploration, and family to love, loss, culture, society, and much more, essays provide a stable platform for the author to write about the countless faces of the human experience. It is an avenue for the author to mix genres, challenge the status quo, break out of the stereotypical idea of a ‘fiction’ writer, and tap into the versatility of narratives that relate to people from myriad walks of life.
In George Orwell’s Shooting An Elephant, he grapples with the themes of imperialism, power, and moral conflict. Through a personal anecdote (whose source, by this time, has been speculated over an innumerable number of times) from his time as an officer serving in Burma, a region annexed by the British leading up to the Anglo-Burmese wars, he offers the readers a glimpse into the complexities of colonialism. He also describes the inner turmoil he experienced while going through an internal crisis about the exploration of colonialism, in general, and while being forced to shoot an elephant in particular. Through his largely individual experience, he is able to explore broader social themes and ethical dilemmas.
Apart from the themes, the diversity of perspectives plays an important role in the writing. The beauty of personal essays also lies in their capacity to showcase a multitude of stories from various personas, and such an inclusion only furthers the richness of the voices and offers fresh insights into widening our understanding of the world.
Authenticity and Truth Ringing from the Author
At its core, personal essays are simply a quest for authenticity by the author – to find a voice and stick to it. They represent a fusion of personal truths and literary art, challenging the author to strike a balance between the two. Thus, honesty and vulnerability are not considered to be weaknesses in nonfiction writing; they are heralded as stories of greatness with a pinch of humanity. They reveal the human behind the words and pages and assure the readers that no matter where the author may be in their life, they are equally flawed human beings just able to reach the readers’ hearts.
A good personal essay draws the reader in, making them feel seen and understood that they are not alone in this wonderful [but, at times, sad] journey called life. For example, Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar essays, she unflinchingly shares her own stories while offering advice to readers – a format followed commonly in the world of personal writing. There are ethical implications to be considered when doling out advice to anyone who would listen, and respecting the bounds of privacy and responsibility should be the topmost priorities for the author. Sensitivity and a keen awareness of the potential consequences of the author’s words are paramount to the success and critical reception of an essay.
Personal Essays in the Digital Age
The digital age has ushered in a proliferation of personal essays on online platforms, thus changing forever the landscape for personal storytelling. Through the internet, particularly the social internet, the process of sharing has been democratized and has provided individuals with a global stage to voice things out.
Despite the proliferation of opportunities that none of us have ever seen before provided by the internet, it is important to remember to know when to share and when to hold back. In this age of oversharing and having multiple accounts on multiple platforms, this takes cardinal importance.
More often than not, however, personal essays have taken the brilliant forms of blogs, email newsletters, and even podcasts. Take the case of John Green, for example. He is the acclaimed author and co-creator of The Anthropocene Reviewed podcast, which is today one of the few podcasts turned into a book – yes, not the other way around! The popularity of the podcast and its playful yet serious commentary on the human condition associated the audiences with warm yet intelligent conversations. Being a published author, Green took up the challenge of converting his auditory essays into printed words.
From the Author’s Perspective
Of course, when it comes to writing non-fiction, most authors, if not all, end up realizing that a part of them has been released into the wild, never to be claimed back. The piece of them exists to be consumed by a wider audience. However, through their writing, authors may embark on an introspection that allows them to gain a stronger understanding of themselves and track their growth over time. Nothing is as permanent as writing. It is a form of self-examination that can be cathartic, enlightening, meditative and revealing, providing the author with a space that’s theirs to make sense of.
The allure of the personal essay lies in its capacity to bridge the chasm between author and reader, making each one of them feel human. As sentient and sentimental beings, being able to relate to another person, even if the person isn’t physically close to us at the moment, is all we need for those happy hormones to work overtime. Personal essays drill through personal and societal observations, connect innermost thoughts with the outer world, and blur the lines between fact and imagination, dreams and memories. They represent strictly emotional statements as well as universal truths. In a world where physical and digital worlds often collide, the enduring appeal of nonfiction writing remains constant. Essays navigate the evolving waves of storytelling, offering the reader a timeless and profound road to the hearts and brains of the authors.