Personal Writing is a course to encourage you to write personal essays. Personal essays (sometimes called “familiar essays”) allow you to write from the first-person viewpoint—to say “I think,” “I feel,” “I believe,” “I urge,” and so forth. You get to speak your own mind. But not as you might in a diary or journal, because you write personal essays with an audience in mind, a readership of others to whom you address yourself. You are not only expressing yourself but communicating to others.
In this course you will read an anthology of such essays, written by both professional writers and by students like you. Those essays will illustrate the range of opportunities that the genre of familiar or personal essay opens you to. Whereas most of your academic composition requires you to write impersonally and objectively, here your personal point of view is paramount as you convey your observations, attitudes and opinions engagingly to your readers, showing them this or that aspect of the world according to you.
When I was in college I never had or heard of such a course, but I think it is a course in which I would have flourished, one that would have started me far sooner doing a kind of writing that’s vital to my well-being and useful for sharing my self with others.
Doing personal writing, I make up my mind because I don’t clearly know what I think about something until I verbalize the diffuse and incoherent notions buzzing about in my brain or in my gut: “How do I know what I think till I see what I say?” That seemingly silly sentence is the motto of our course. Although attributed to “a garrulous and scatter-brained old geezer,” that sentence recognizes how thought takes shape as it finds apt language in which to emerge and manifest publicly.
“Making up my mind” suggests another aspect of personal writing, one that fashionable women who wear makeup will readily recognize: for your mind to go from schlepping around in a daydream to dolling itself up to impress others in public introduces the element of artistry into your writing. In Personal Writing you dress to impress others with well put-together sentences and paragraphs in an ensemble that pleases both writer and reader.