How to Write a Personal Essay With Facts
August 22, 2022 § 22 Comments
By Dian Parker
To write an essay, an engaging, attention-holding essay, is to write with focus coupled with the ability to meander, consider other terrain, remember other times, appreciate small details, follow your intuition and curiosity ‒ in other words, be creative.
Women can have babies and therefore are usually good caretakers of other people, along with an uncanny ability to multitask. Men like my husband tend to be more singularly focused and are less adept at doing two things at once. Ask any woman who does most of the cooking in a household. She can hold the baby, talk on the phone, and make stir fry. Ask a man what he did that day while he chops the carrots, and he’ll either stop chopping or stop talking. I’ve asked many women if this is their experience, and they all roll their eyes and say yes. You, the reader, may rile at these generalities but in my 70 years on this planet, I’ve found this to be the case.
In the Atacama Desert of Argentina, the driest place on earth, with temperatures reaching 104 during the day and down to 40 at night, long distance runners test their endurance. The grueling race takes seven days, with an ascent and descent of 11,500 feet. My husband, if he chose, would be up for this task. It would feed his uncanny ability to hold his focus on one task for as long as it takes, like opening our vacuum cleaner to figure out why it’s not working (it is 20 years old, but that is not a consideration for him).
If, on the other hand, I ran that race, I’d want to examine the particles of sand beneath my feet, stop to sift the tiny stones through my fingers, revel in the colors of ochre, sienna, and umber. I’d want to feel the heat under my body as I lay stretched out at night, taking in the brilliant high-altitude sky. As I was running, I might think about the high school play I was in where the bench flipped over and knocked me out. Or maybe about the frigid night I spent lying on the frozen ground without a sleeping bag because my brother said we wouldn’t need one.
Whereas my husband, running the desert race, would focus so completely on keeping his feet moving and his breathing regular that he’d never consider memories of other times to interfere with his goal – to finish, and maybe even to win.
In one Atacama Desert race, the fastest runner took 24 hours, shy 11 minutes. He is Vicente Garcia Beneito from Spain, a firefighter. Being from a hot country as well as fighting fires must have helped him run in the desert. Lest the reader be concerned, women have also won races in the women’s division of high-intensity races in the Mongolian, Namibian, Antarctica, Lapland, and Georgian deserts.
But when writing an essay, it’s best not to run, let alone be too hot and thirsty. It’s best to take your time. Sweep the floor, give the kid a bath, cook dinner, and read lots. To write an essay takes time and endurance, a single-minded focus along with a willingness to riff in the imagination without trying to win.
Now, a man can do this too and plenty of great writers have been men. We all are alike in so many ways. It’s only that some of us would want to run in the driest place on earth for 155 miles, whereas others of us would want to write an essay, sitting down with a cup of coffee, while a soft breeze plays across our typing fingertips.
If I could only be more like my husband, I might know when my essay is finished. If he were more like me, our vacuum would still be broken.
Dian Parker’s essays and short stories have been published in 3:AM Magazine, The Rupture, Epiphany, Tiny Molecules, Burningword, among others, and nominated for several Pushcart Prizes. She has traveled extensively in the desert and can be reached at www.dianparker.com. She tweets @dian9parker.