Guest Speaker Paula Derrow: Tips to Perfect your Personal Essays

How does getting paid to write about your own life sound? Paula Derrow, former editor at Self magazine, visited John Cabot to advise students on how to do just that. Having worked for magazines such as Glamour, American Health, The New Yorker, and Cosmo, Derrow provided insight and professional advice into what publishers are looking for when considering a potential piece. “Editors are always looking for young, new voices”, she said. Derrow also encouraged students to seize the opportunity to write personal essays: “To maximize your chances of getting published, focus on what you know best: yourself.”

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Derrow’s tips to perfect your personal essays are as follows:

1) There needs to be a change in the main character.

Derrow compared stories to a movie. No one wants to see a movie where nothing happens to or changes the main character.

2) You want your reader to come out with a new view.

As a writer, you want the reader to have a new perspective than they did at the beginning of the essay.

3) Do not squish your entire life into four pages.

People tend to want to recite every detail of their lives in one story. Pick the most prominent memories you have and go from there.

4) Be able to describe what your story is about in three sentences.

Know what you are writing about and who your subject is.

5) Do not sum up your essay in the conclusion.

Forget everything you learned in middle school! Conclude your essay with a statement that will kick your reader in the gut and give him or her something to think about.

6) Begin your essay with action.

The opening is often found several paragraphs down in essays. Editors do not read past the first 2-4 sentences, so capture the reader’s attention immediately.

7) Pick a publication, and write specifically for that one.

If you are submitting your essay to ten publications, it will most likely not be picked by any of them.

If you are interested in having your words published, start perfecting your essays and find the right magazine for your stories today!

Learn more about the Institute for Creative Writing and Literary Translation.

Learn more about past and future events for aspiring writers at John Cabot University.

Learn more about Paula Derrow.

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