Personal Essay Writing

Draft, edit and sell first-person essays

  • sections:
  • Discussions Tuesdays 8-9pm ET, 8 sessions full schedule

From Anna Quindlen to Adam Gopnik, the work of personal essayists is increasingly filling the pages of magazines and websites, offering readers a glimpse of inner worlds and casting a light on the larger world around them.

This class will focus on writing and selling first-person narratives, starting with short opinion and slice-of-life pieces appropriate for The New York Times op-ed page, and moving on to longer, reported pieces written in the first-person. Assignments will be workshopped and ready for pitching.

In this class, you will learn how to:

  • Find a narrative voice to anchor your essay
  • Tell a personal story without being whiney
  • Tell someone else's story
  • Know what to leave in and what to leave out
  • Self-edit and assess your voice, style, and tone

By the end of class, you will have:

At least two complete and salable personal essays.

Jessica Olien's writing has been published in Slate, Salon, Bust,, Jezebel, Nerve, Marie Claire, Budget Travel, Conde Nast Traveler, xoJane, and The L Magazine. Her work has been cited by The New York Times, The Economist, Politico, and PBS. She has appeared on various television and radio programs, including Talk of the Nation on NPR, to discuss her work.

  • "This class was a great, confidence-building experience for me. I was worried that I didn't have anything of value to add as a writer. This class was the kick in the butt I needed to put myself out there and do something I really love. Now I have a grip on how to construct a good essay and pitch it."

    Ann Carrathers