Personal Essay Markets 2014

In this post we suggest several ways to inspire your students’ own personal writing, using Times models as “mentor texts,” and advice from our writers on everything from avoiding “zombie nouns” to writing “dangerous” college essays.

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Advice From The Times on Writing Well, compiles nine guidelines from many different Times sources on everything from “listening to the voice in your head” to writing with “non-zombie nouns and verbs.”But for one-stop shopping on the personal essay in particular, you might just read “How to Write a Lives Essay,” in which the author asks the magazine’s editors for a “single, succinct piece of advice” for getting an essay published in the long-running column devoted to personal stories.

Here are a few of the answers, but read the whole post to see them all:• More action, more details, less rumination. And the old Thom Yorke line: “Don’t get sentimental.

It always ends up drivel.”• Meaning (or humor, or interestingness) is in specific details, not in broad statements.• Write a piece in which something actually happens, even if it’s something small.• Don’t try to fit your whole life into one “Lives.”• Don’t try to tell the whole story.• Do not end with the phrase “I realized that …

”• Tell a small story — an evocative, particular moment.• Better to start from something very simple that you think is interesting (an incident, a person) and expand upon it, rather than starting from a large idea that you then have to fit into an short essay.

Another excellent place to glean ideas is the Op-Ed page, where writers respond to the news of the day with occasional personal essays.

In this one, a classic from 1999, a teenager reacts to the Columbine school shootings — then blamed in part on school cliques that made some feel like outsiders — with an essay headlined, “Yes, I’m in a Clique.”Or read this week’s “How to Vote as an Immigrant and a Citizen,” an Op-Ed by the novelist Imbolo Mbue about what it means to her to vote on November 8 and, for the first time, have “a say in America’s future.”Our lesson plan, Writing Rules!

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