1. Ground the reader.

Tell us at the beginning who, what, when, and where? These are the details that help ground and interest the reader. These details tell the reader who to care about and basically what’s going on. Use the rest of the story to answer the question why? Why am I telling this story? Why did I act the way I did?

2. Write like you speak.

This might be the most important tip because what matters most in any story is getting to the truth. Writing like you speak is your most authentic voice. Don’t use big, fancy words to sound smart unless that is how you normally speak. So if you don’t speak with words like ergo, i.e., nevertheless, furthermore, hence…don’t use these words in your writing.

3. Omit needless words.

Every word counts in a story, so do your best to edit out the ones you don’t need.

4. Be specific in your details. Ask yourself, like what?

Details make your situation more universal and give us info about the characters. If I’ve never been to prison but you tell me they serve overcooked broccoli and peanut butter sandwiches every day, I can relate. If you say that you choose mint Colgate toothpaste and Oral B toothbrushes then we learn something about you. Details bring us closer to the story and the characters in the story.

5. Show and tell.

If you are describing a guy who is an asshole, you can tell us he’s an asshole, but we need to see him acting like an asshole to really feel it and believe it.

6.  Go to scene.

A scene is where the action is. Scenes are what the reader remembers. A great way to go to scene is to describe a moment something happened.

7. Create a reliable narrator.

The narrator in a memoir or personal essay is the “I” character—the person telling the story. The narrator has to win the reader over by revealing something real and vulnerable. You can be a total jerk, but own it and admit it and the reader will love and trust you.

8. End the sentence/paragraph/chapter or story on the strongest note.

His death was a result of his drug problem vs. His drug problem led to his death. Death is stronger…end that sentence with death.

9. What is the story about?

A story is more than a situation. In other words, it’s not enough to say this thing happened to me. The narrator must have evolved or learned something from the situation. The job of the narrator is to make meaning out of a situation. It’s ok to start an essay and not know why you’re writing it now or what you’ve come to say, but by the end, you should know and so should your readers.

10. Read your story OUT LOUD! And Edit. Edit. Edit.