preliminary essay My Personal Experience,

Format: On paper, either typed or handwritten. You do not need to re-copy the questions. If typed, you are welcome to use the Word version of this assignment on Canvas and to type within it.


Length: Aim for at least three pages of typed writing, or approximately 750 words. If it is handwritten, it will be longer than three pages, since handwriting is usually bigger than typing.


Grading (15 points): The content of this writing is not graded. Rather, the assignment will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Length: The more the better. It’s ok if some parts seem not to fit, or if they don’t directly answer the questions. The questions are prompts—your answers might stray away from them into your memories and ideas.
  • Experimentation and freedom of writing: Did you really let yourself go, and think of every possible detail that might be included? Did you follow each question as far as your memories would possibly lead?
  • Evidence of use in composing your essay: Some portions might be circled, others might be crossed out, according to whether you thought they would be good to use in your essay. There might be notes to yourself in the margins, or circles and arrows showing your ideas about where to use certain pieces.


Use lists to think of a topic for your essay: Make several lists of experiences you’ve had that might make good topics for this essay. Make a list for each following category, and make more lists in additional categories if you think of them. Each list should have 3-7 experiences. Don’t worry yet about whether these experiences will make good essay topics; rather, pay attention to how interested you feel in writing about them and to whether you might have a lot or a little to say about each one. List both trivial and major experiences. The categories: a) friendship/family; b) nature; c) political/societal awareness; d) spiritual/religious; e) sports or artistic endeavors; f) intellectual/academic/scientific; g) scenes or interactions from your life that you just happen to remember, that seem either important or unimportant; h) any other category of experience that you can think of.

Examine these lists. Perhaps there’s something there that you can use for your essay topic.

Generate detail and ideas that might go in your essay: Once you have chosen the experience you’ll focus on, write as much as you can about each of the following questions. You may type or handwrite. If something seems particularly interesting and fruitful, write more about it. Writing down lots of detail: include actual dialogue, specific description, etc. The purpose of this is to loosen up your brain and get writing on the page. Some of this writing might be included or developed in your essay later. Some might not be. Don’t worry about whether what you write here is important enough to be in your essay. Your goals are to generate ideas and material. Ideally, you will end up with more than your essay can use.

  1. Setting: Where does your experience take place? Take your mind there, and write down all the details you remember of this location. Think of details that relate to all the senses: Sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch.
  1. Character: Who was involved in this experience? What are these people like? How do they speak, how do they look, what is their relationship to you?
  1. Dialogue: What are some of the specific things that were said during this experience? Or if there were no people around speaking, maybe you’ve written the sounds you heard in #1 above?
  1. Background: What led up to this experience? Were there many steps leading up to the main event, the specific experience? What was your state or attitude before this experience?
  1. Conflict: What conflicts did you experience during this experience? Was it a conflict with another person, with a group, with an idea, or within yourself?


  1. Climax: Was there a single moment during this experience when your attitude shifted, or when the conflict reached its height, or when there was a turning point?
  1. Resolution: What happened afterward? How has this experience influenced your life?
  1. Extending: Why is it important to you to tell about this experience? Why should others outside you care about it?
  1. Theme/thesis: What underlying idea does this experience illustrate? Another way to word this might be to use the template below:

Although this experience seems to be about ______________, it’s really about _______________________.

Also, you could experiment with some of the thesis templates provided above in the assignment sheet.


Next Steps: (We will do this together in class on 1/10)

  1. Read over what you’ve written.
  2. Circle the parts that seem most important or interesting. Perhaps these might go in your finished essay.
  3. Write more about these interesting and important parts, adding details, images, dialogue, whatever you need to make these parts vivid to the reader.
  4. Find the parts that seem less interesting, and decide whether that’s because they’re not that important to your main point or because they are still underdeveloped.
  5. If it’s because they’re underdeveloped, write ore about them, as you did about the important and interesting parts in step 3.
  6. Consider what overall main idea (see “thesis” on the assignment sheet for this essay) this writing might lead to. Try writing a few sample thesis sentences. You can use the templates in the assignment sheet, or write a thesis sentence without a template.
  7. If you have some writing here that you think you will use in your essay, consider what order it might go in. You can circle sections and put numbers by them, or write things like “beginning,” “middle,” and “end,” to remind yourself of where they might go. They don’t have to go in this order, ultimately, and you can move things around, but you are at least giving yourself some organization to start with.
  8. In other words, use this material to begin building your essay out of. Or, if you don’t like any of it, toss it and repeat this exercise with a different topic.

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