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.

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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.

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§ 22 Responses to How to Write a Personal Essay With Facts

  • […] How to Write a Personal Essay With Facts […]

  • sapel2013 says:

    Oh Dian, what a great essay, and what perceptive observations! “ …a willingness to riff in the imagination without trying to win.“

  • stacyeholden says:

    Nature or Nurture, who knows? But women really do seem to have evolved as more capable of cutting carrots and holding a conversation on their own. Thanks for this essay, Dian, and and thanks too for reminding me that distractions are the small details that make life better.

  • As a woman writer who runs, the joy of being on the trail or in challenging terrain is to embrace a singular focus and leave the meandering mind at home. I also organize an ultra race in Southern Spain in 100-degree heat. 5 days, 230km. I probably know that bombero who won Atacama 😉 The person who can complete an ultra race is someone who has trained for it, regardless of age, gender, or body type. I would say it’s similar with writing personal essays. We don’t cross the finish line on the first go. We do a lot of sprints, intervals, squats, recovery days, light runs, uphills, and so on. As for the broken vacuum cleaner, I’m with you. Let it collect dust!

    • Dian Parker says:

      Michelle
      What a blessing to have you as a reader for this essay!
      Improvisation demands a strong foundation in order to let go. Like a musician, this requires craft, earned from many long years of study and application. Being a runner requires singular focus, as does any artist, and being willing to pull from the ethers our inspiration and will to get to completion.
      Love that you are a runner in challenging terrain and that you found this essay in the scramble of the internet. Thank you!

  • youngv2015 says:

    This is great! I love how you wove together essay writing and running in the desert. I enjoyed this even more because I’ve read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. My running style would be the same as yours. I couldn’t focus on just the run.

    • Dian Parker says:

      I will definitely check out this book. Have you read Murakami’s book about running. Also great.
      Thanks for reading!

  • Watts Nexx says:

    I’m still learning. Thanks for the lesson. I’ll look for more.

    • Dian Parker says:

      Thanks Watts Nexx – love that! And thanks for checking out my website and letting me know. So appreciated.

  • ushikak says:

    What a wonderful endorsement of a universal predilection in the two genders!!
    I write essays in exactly the fashion you describe— resulting in a few foul-ups occasionally! Lingering over polishing a sentence or a paragraph and forgetting the vessel on the burner till it hisses its neglect!! 🌹

  • Dian Parker says:

    Thank you Brevity for including my essay. I am honored. Such a great blog.

  • You’ve written a great example of showing while telling! A feat of magic.

  • Dian Parker – Kudos to you for sharing such amazing to write facts. Last day when I searched for tips or ideas. I finally reach here. The way of writing is imple and easy to understand. I am still learning about writing and I hope will get more tips in the future. Thanks for sharing with us.

  • Isabelle DiLuzio says:

    Dian, thank you for your essay! The juxtaposition between writing personal essays and running has triggered much contemplation on my part. For me, personal essays are just that: personal. They provide a place to pause and connect with our world, inner and outer. It is a platform for reflection, observation, honesty and discovery. It is a conversation between a writer and a reader. As the former shares their intimate thoughts, the latter eavesdrops on the writer’s ‘meanderings’. In that exchange both come together in the experience of the written word. Through your essay, I’ve gotten a glimpse of who you are; a traveler, a curious mind who, much like a butterfly, wants to taste and experience as many flowers as possible. Your husband, a thinker, a problem solver and one who prefers intimacy over social settings. This is what personal essays do to me. They create a space where we get to know each other in the commonality of our human experience, writer to reader. I’ve also run a few half-marathons and have experienced the same deep mental pause and discipline needed to maintain a rhythm that will see me through the end of the race (or the page). They both elicit in me the same state of mind, one that requires letting go of everything in order to be fully present with the task at hand. And though I get much satisfaction out of the two activities, I much prefer writing essays over running!

  • Dian Parker says:

    Thanks, Isabelle, for your reflections. Yes, writing and running can have the same single-minded focus, and can be a time riffing in the imagination. For me, easier to do on the page!

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