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Personal Writing

Personal Writing

"Dear Diary..." You have undoubtedly heard this famous line in your lifetime, probably a few times! You may even have written it yourself for your personal writing.

Take a moment to think about a time when you wrote a diary or journal entry (whether or not it began with 'Dear Diary' doesn't matter), or a time when you wrote some poetry just because you felt like it, or penned a letter to a friend or relative.

These pieces of writing likely felt personal and important to you when you wrote them, but does this make them personal writing?

In this article, we'll look at some definitions to help you understand and identify personal writing. We'll also look at some examples of personal writing and will offer some creative ideas to inspire your own personal writing.

Personal Writing, closeup of a diary, StudySmarterDiaries and journals are certainly personal, but are they personal writing?

Personal Writing Definition

What is personal writing? Let's look at a definition:

Personal writing is a written work that describes the events or experiences of one's life in an informative and engaging way. Personal writing can be a form of anecdotal (based on personal experience) storytelling and often imparts some kind of lesson or wisdom to the reader.

What distinguishes personal writing from merely storytelling?

A key difference is that personal writing has a more profound point or purpose, whereas storytelling can simply entertain or amuse.

Let's look at some features of personal writing to help consolidate our understanding of what it is:

Personal Writing Features

These are some of the key features of personal writing:

  • A strong hook - A hook does what it says on the tin – it hooks the reader's attention and makes them want to continue reading. If a piece of personal writing starts with really mundane or overly complicated information, the reader might think, "Yup, this is not for me," or "Ugh, what are they talking about?" and stop reading then and there.

I hope I shall be able to confide in you completely, as I have never been able to do in anyone before, and I hope that you will be a great support and comfort to me.

-Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, 1947

This is the opening line of Anne Frank's diary, later published as The Diary of a Young Girl in 1947.

This line is a compelling hook as the reader may feel Anne Frank is directing her sentiment toward them by using the personal pronoun you. Because Anne Frank is also talking about needing to confide in someone, the reader is left wondering what she could say next, making them want to continue reading.

  • A compelling story - As we've already covered, personal writing is a form of storytelling. To do this, you need to have, well, a story. If the story you're writing about isn't interesting and engaging, why would people want to read it? A good story should have believable characters, a vivid sense of setting, and a plot.

  • A meaningful lesson or point - One of the key differences between personal writing and fictional writing (apart from the fiction vs. non-fiction part, of course) is that personal writing imparts a lesson or piece of wisdom to the reader based on the writer's own experience. Fictional writing does not need to do this and can be solely for entertainment purposes. A good way to think about personal writing is storytelling that gives advice or teaches something.

Personal Writing, books saying 'never stop learning', StudySmarterPersonal writing entertains and teaches a lesson at the same time.

Personal Writing Examples

There are several different types of personal writing, or rather, several forms that personal writing can take.

The most common type is the personal essay. Personal essays can come in different forms and can be written for several different purposes. We will cover personal essays in more detail in the next section, but examples of personal essays include:

  • College admission essays

  • Personal statements for job applications

  • Written pieces for blogs or other publications where the writer shares their personal experiences and the lessons they've learned or realizations they've had

Personal Writing Essays

Personal writing essays, or more simply, personal essays, are one of the most common forms of personal writing. Let's look at college admission essays as an example:

A college admission essay will normally ask you a question or give you a title to follow, and you have to write your essay using your life and experiences as inspiration. The point of a college admission essay is to see how you've overcome hardships, what you've achieved, or what lessons you've learned during your life that will make you a suitable candidate for that college.

Some examples of college admission questions include:

  • Think about a time when you questioned or challenged a long-held belief. Reflect on what prompted your doubts and how you resolved or accepted them.
  • Describe a time of significant personal growth you have experienced. What factors contributed to this growth, and how has your life changed since?
  • Write about a time when you overcame a challenge or hardship. What personal qualities helped you overcome this, and what effect did this have on you in the long run?

As mentioned earlier in the article, personal statements, blog posts, and other pieces of published personal storytelling are also examples of personal writing essays.

Have you ever Googled a recipe but found you had to scroll through three pages of the chef telling you their life story before you could reach the actual recipe? That's an example of a personal writing essay.

Other types of personal writing include memoirs and chronicles. Let's look at each of these.

Memoirs

What is a memoir?

A memoir is a historical narrative account of someone's life experiences written from personal knowledge. A memoir can be written by the person themselves or by someone who knows the subject of the memoir very well.

What's the difference between a memoir and a biography or autobiography?

Biographies and autobiographies are generally about a person's whole life, whereas memoirs tend to be centered around more specific events or experiences. In some ways, memoirs are more densely detailed as they cover more limited periods of a person's life, whereas a biography or autobiography spans an entire lifetime.

Memoir Characteristics

  • A focus. Memoirs must have a point; otherwise, why would people read them? The writer must have a piece of wisdom or insight in mind for the readers.

  • Drama or conflict. Memoirs need to be entertaining as well as good at storytelling. If the memoir writer has not experienced any hardship, conflict, or challenges, then the piece will be more of a collection of anecdotes rather than a memoir.

  • A transformation, realization, or resolution. The memoir should detail the writer experiencing a revelation or transformation of some kind to act as the teachable moment where a lesson, piece of advice, or wisdom is passed onto the reader.

  • A relatable story. The writer's story should link to emotions, struggles, or experiences that people widely understand in order for the reader to connect with the story.

Memoir Examples

  • Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

  • Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

  • Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Chronicles

What is a chronicle?

A chronicle is a factually accurate and chronological (in time order) account of significant historical events. The events covered in a chronicle are told from the writer's or chronicler's perspective.

Both chronicles and memoirs are factual accounts; however, memoirs are about people, whereas chronicles are focused on events.

Chronicle Characteristics

  • Based on facts - Chronicles are a method of documenting historical events and are therefore rooted with facts rather than being embellished or fictionalized.
  • Chronological order - Chronicles are written chronologically and follow a linear timeline. This means events are written in the order they happened.
  • Not concerned with emotions or entertainment - Chronicles are written to record historical events. Chroniclers are not interested in entertaining people or conveying the emotions of the events/ societies they write about.
  • Sometimes subject to bias - As chronicles are written from the writer's perspective, bias might lead to certain events being left out, for example.

Chronicle Examples

  • Annales seu cronicae incliti Regni Poloniae, Poland
  • Alamgirnama, Mughal Empire
  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, England

'Chronicle' can also refer to a very long novel that is one of a series. You might have heard of:

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.

These are all examples of novel chronicles. These chronicles do not fall under the personal writing umbrella, as they are usually entirely fictional (sadly, dragons and hobbits and talking lions are not real).

Personal Writing, drawing of a king knighting someone, StudySmarterChronicles chart important historical events in chronological order.

Personal Writing Ideas

If you want to try your hand at personal writing, here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Write about a dream or hope you had as a child. Have you achieved it? Why or why not? Have your dreams changed since then?

  • Think about a place you've traveled to. What did you learn about this place or its people that changed your perspective on life?

  • Have you ever had to confront a lie you've told? How did you deal with the consequences of this lie, and how did this affect you moving forward?

  • What are you most grateful for in your life? What impact has this subject had on your life to make you appreciate it?

Personal Writing - Key Takeaways

  • Personal writing is a form of writing that conveys the writer's experiences in an entertaining and informative way and acts as a kind of lesson.
  • Personal writing comes in various forms, including personal essays, memoirs, and chronicles.
  • The key difference between a memoir and an autobiography is that a memoir imparts wisdom, advice, or lesson and is about specific life experiences. In contrast, an autobiography is about a person's whole life.
  • Examples of personal essays include college admission essays, personal statements for job applications, and blogs / other published personal writing.
  • Personal writing should have a compelling hook, a strong story, and a meaningful point.

References

  1. A. Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, 1947

Frequently Asked Questions about Personal Writing

Personal writing is writing that explores the writer's own life experiences in a way that imparts wisdom or advice to the reader. Some examples include:


  • personal essays
  • memoirs
  • chronicles

The main features of personal writing are:


  • a strong hook
  • a compelling story
  • a lesson, revelation, or wisdom

Four types of writing apart from personal writing include;


  • creative writing
  • persuasive writing
  • technical writing
  • descriptive writing

Personal writing is important because it entertains the reader as well as gives them a lesson or piece of useful advice based on the experiences of the author.

To start your own personal writing, you need to first decide on a prompt. This prompt should be a question or title that makes you think about specific events or experiences in your life that have contributed to the person you are today.

Final Personal Writing Quiz

Question

Define personal writing.

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Answer

Personal writing is a written work that describes the events or experiences of one's life in an informative and engaging way.

Show question

Question

What word best links to this description?


'based on personal experience'

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Answer

anecdotal

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Question

What does a hook do in writing?

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Answer

It grabs the reader's attention and makes them want to continue reading.

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Question

Give two examples of personal essays.

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Answer

  • personal statements for job applications
  • college admission essays

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Question

What is a memoir?

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Answer

A memoir is a historical narrative account of someone's life experiences written from personal knowledge.

Show question

Question

What is the difference between an autobiography and a memoir?

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Answer

Autobiographies are generally about a person's whole life, whereas memoirs tend to be centered around more specific events or experiences. 

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Question

Which of these is not a characteristic of a memoir?

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Answer

Chronological

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Question

What is a chronicle?

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Answer

A chronicle is a factually accurate and chronological account of significant historical events. 

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What is the person who writes a chronicle called?

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Answer

A chronicler

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True or false, memoirs are about people and chronicles are about events.

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Answer

True

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True or false, chronicles do not have to be factual.

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Answer

False

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Question

Are novel or fictional chronicles considered personal writing?

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Answer

No, because they are not about real people and events that the writer has experienced.

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Question

Which of these could be an example of personal writing?

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Answer

blog posts

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What is the point of a college admission essay?

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Answer

To see what characteristics the applicant has that make them a good candidate for that college.

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Question

True or false, chronicles are always completely free from bias.

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Answer

false

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Question

What is a memoir?

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Answer

A memoir is a historical narrative account of someone's life experiences written from personal knowledge. 

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True or false, a memoir will have a lesson or piece of wisdom to share with the reader.  

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Answer

True

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Question

True or false, memoirs and autobiographies are the same thing.

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Answer

False

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Question

Name three characteristics or features of a memoir.

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Answer

Any from this list: 


  • a strong hook
  • distinctive writing style
  • drama or conflict
  • a key focus
  • honesty and integrity
  • lesson or wisdom to share

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Question

List three kinds of memoirs.

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Answer

Any from this list (or any others you can think of):


  • travel memoir
  • confessional memoir
  • professional memoir
  • personal memoir

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Which kind of memoir is most likely to deal with issues such as divorce, illness, and bereavement?

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Answer

Personal

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Question

Define 'autobiography'.

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Answer

An autobiography is simply a written account of a person's life as written by themselves. 

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Question

Which type of book best fits this description:


'Spans the writer's whole life'

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Answer

Autobiography

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Which type of writing tends to be more emotional?

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Answer

Memoir

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Briefly describe what a professional memoir is.

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Professional memoirs are accounts of events in the writer's professional life.

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What kind of memoir is 'Eat, Pray, Love' by Elizabeth Gilbert an example of?

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Answer

Travel memoir

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What is the point of having a strong hook in a memoir?

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It grabs the reader's attention and makes them want to continue reading. 

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Which type of writing is more concerned with fact and chronology?

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Answer

Autobiographies

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What language does the word 'memoir' come from?

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Answer

French

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What does a confessional memoir entail?

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Answer

A confessional memoir is a way for the writer to share the decisions or actions they have carried out in their lives that they now believe to have been mistakes. The writer can also discuss how they resolved these regrettable instances. 

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Briefly describe what a chronicle is.

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Answer

"Chronicle" can be a noun or a verb. As a noun, it refers to a usually factual, written account of significant historical events. As a verb, it refers to the action of writing a chronicle.

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Which of these words best describes a chronicle?

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Chronological

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What is the person who writes a chronicle called?

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A chronicler

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What is the difference between a chronicle and an annal?

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Answer

A chronicle can span any length of time whereas an annal spans one year.

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True or false, a chronicle is a method of storytelling.

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True

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What is the significance of chronicles to historians?

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Having a timeline of events can help historians to pick apart wars, revolutions, and other important occurrences to better understand the causes and effects of these events. Chronicles not only lay out the order of historical events, but can also portray information about the political, cultural, and religious attitudes that influenced, or were influenced by, these events. 

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What are the two kinds of chronicle called?

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Live and Dead

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"A chronicle that extends into the lifetime of the chronicler." 


What type of chronicle is this definition referring to?

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Answer

A live chronicle

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"Chronicles that do not include any events that occurred during the chronicler's lifetime."


What type of chronicle is this definition referring to?

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Answer

A dead chronicle

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Name three famous chronicle examples.

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Answer

  • Spring and Autumn Annals
  • The Babylonian Chronicles
  • The Historia Ecclesiastica 

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What does "provenance" mean?

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Answer

An official record of an object or artifact's origin, creator, and ownership.

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What kind of person would have been likely to commission a chronicle?

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Answer

A king

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What are three near-synonyms for "chronicle"?

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Answer

  • record
  • annal
  • chronology

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What kind of event is a chronicle UNLIKELY to record?

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Answer

The population of a city/ town

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Question

What was the name of the chronicler who compiled the Historia Ecclesiastica, and what was their profession?

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Answer

Orderic Vitalis compiled the Historia Ecclesiastica, and he was a Catholic monk of the Order of Saint Benedict.

Show question

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