Personal Essay Markets 2014

But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it completely right.

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For example, take this prompt: “• “A Rat’s Tale”: A writer discusses her failure to be the sister her brother wanted and what she learned.• “Pancake Chronicles”: An entertaining account of a disastrous first job.• “A Heartbroken Temp at”: After a groom changes his mind, his would-be bride, with “no money, no apartment, no job” takes a position at a wedding website.

Another source of inspiration is Ron Lieber’s annual contest for the best college essays that address issues of money, work and social class.

For just one example, though, you might read Gary Shteyngart’s essay “Only Disconnect”: With each post, each tap of the screen, each drag and click, I am becoming a different person — solitary where I was once gregarious; a content provider where I at least once imagined myself an artist; nervous and constantly updated where I once knew the world through sleepy, half-shut eyes; detail-oriented and productive where I once saw life float by like a gorgeously made documentary film.

Does it surprise you to realize this essay was written in 2010?

Contestants were allowed to write stories, essays, plays, memoirs or poetry, and could use lines like these: After you look at the full list of first lines, jump over to read the work of our winners, and see how they took first sentences like “I am parked in a rental car in front of the house where I grew up,” and made them their own.

Around Valentine’s Day that same year, we invited students to use first lines from the weekly Modern Love column as “passion prompts,” and that time we showed them how to take the basic idea from the essay and adapt it for themselves: Scroll through the feature, and either follow the prompts we suggest, or use any of the images that catch your interest to write whatever you like. What personal connection to the content can you make?These essays, as he wrote in 2015, are “filled with raw, decidedly mixed feelings about parents and their sacrifices; trenchant accounts of the awkwardness of straddling communities with vastly different socio-economic circumstances; and plain-spoken — yet completely affecting — descriptions of what it means to make a living and a life in America today.”You can find them all, by year, here:2016: Memories and Hopes: The Top Essays2015: Essays About Work and Class That Caught a College’s Eye2014: Four Stand-Out College Essays About Money2013: Standing Out From the Crowd What we’ve compiled below is just a very, very small taste of the thousands of essays you can find in The Times on these topics.Please preview any that you assign to students to make sure they are appropriate.Do you think his observations are even more true today?What stories do you have to tell about life online?For instance, maybe the impact of technology on our lives concerns you.In our collection of prompts, you can find nearly 50 different ways we’ve taken that topic on, each linked to a Times article or essay on the topic.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.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.And since we’ve linked to but a fraction of the thousands of engaging personal pieces published in the paper over the years, we also invite you to add your own suggestions in the comments.


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