Writing Personal Essays Dropbox Workshop: Directions, Deadlines

Dropbox workshop directions and deadlines here.

1. Submit revision of one of your three essays for workshop; name document LastnameFirstnameWorkshopEssay and place in “Workshop” folder in Dropbox by Thursday, June 19: 11:59pm.

2. Copy all of the files onto your hard drive. DO NOT work on the files in the folder.

3. Rename each file this way: LastnameFirstnameWorkshopEssay MARKED BY YOUR NAME

4. Make comments in each of your fellow students’ work and upload to the folder called “PUT MARKED ONES HERE PLEASE” inside the Workshop folder.


Dropbox folder  Comments on fellow students’ work due Monday, June 23, 11:59pm.

Mark up everyone’s drafts. You can do this any number of ways.

– If you have a scanner, print out the pages and mark them up old school with a pen, then scan the pages and load them up. That’s probably too much of a bother.

– You can do it by just typing into the document what questions or marks you want to do. Use all caps. Like, in this sentence, I MIGHT TYPE “I WANT SOMETHING MORE HERE” OR “I AM A BIT CONFUSED.”

– If you are in Microsoft Word, feel free to use the same Word comments “track changes” feature, where if you cross out something, or add something, it will show up like this. To turn this on, I use the keyboard shortcut of CTL+SHIFT+E; you can also to the Review > Tracking > Track Changes.

The bottom line: you need to mark up each other’s drafts.

What, exactly, are you marking up?

Grammar, of course. Punctuation. Mechanics.  Things that are confusing or unclear.

Also, written comments — you can write in comments throughout the draft (even using Word comments, if you like, or in the middle or end of the draft.

What is the situation of the essay? What is the story?

  • What is this scene really about?
  • What problem does the author seem to be wrestling with, or trying to solve?
  • What questions remain unanswered?
  • What do you think the writer is trying teaching us or him/herself?
  • Should the writer use figurative or literal language? In other words, should the writer use images, comparison or metaphor, or try to tell us exactly what is happening? Why?
  • Where in this draft could the writer introduce a narrator, one that uses retrospective voice us understand what is going on in this scene? (Lopate)
  •  Should there be dialogue? How much dialogue should be paraphrased?
  • Is there parts where the writer is “telling”? Does it work? (That “show, don’t tell” rule isn’t so hard-and-fast in memoir writing, you know.)
  • Should some kind of backstory be introduced? For example, should there be a flashback scene or tangent.

These are just suggestions, but what I am looking for is evidence that you have read the examples and essays, thought about personal essays and what they do, and can apply them to each other’s work.


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End-Term Conferences for Summer Personal Essay Writing Class

These will be on Google Hangouts video only. You must find a time to have your conference and email me by Thursday, June 19, 5pm. If none of these time slots work, you must email me immediately. Times are given on a first email, first serve basis.

To be prepared for your conference, please have:

– the latest drafts of all three essays in front of you;

– a proposed idea for your reflection paper that draws from at least two of our readings from our Readings folder;

– consult this collection of Revision Techniques. Select at least three per rough draft, and use them. Have them finished and be ready to discuss and present your results at our conference;

– any questions about the revisions for your Final Portfolio;

– any questions about our Dropbox workshop;


I will have your grade breakdown ready and emailed to you before your conference.


Friday, June 20

10am Tiaira G

11am Karlee H

4pm Nicholas Ma

5pm Jessica F


Saturday, June 21

3pm Emily F

4pm Maria B



7pm Allen L

Sunday, June 22

11am Angela DeR

12pm Samantha W

1:30pm Andrea Bo

3pm Charisse M

4pm Conor H


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Unit 4: Freewriting for Your Third Personal Essay

Due: Wednesday, June 11, 11:59pm.
First, pick a Time Period (from 12 months to 5 years) in which your life was at a crossroads, were about to experience a great change of place or mindset, or were otherwise experiencing some sort of transformation or self-definition. Some might want to selected a longer Time Period (all of high school). Other might pick one week, when some major change happened.
Write a series of short, “mini-essays” that focus on different parts of your Time Period. For now, each at least 200 words and no more than 400. Keep the numbers for reference; you’ll need them for the next draft.
1. A Day in The Life. Tell a story from your Time Period when you feel your life was changed in a significant way—this cannot be an “Official Day” (graduation, prom, sports event, wedding, funeral; we will get to that later). If you can, give the exact calendar date, to the best of your recollection (day, month, year).
2. Five “Yearbook” Entries. Take out some sort of list or directory from your Time Period: your senior year high school yearbook, a Buddy List/friends from AIM/MySpace, your childhood street). Think of a way to randomly pick from this list: every other person, every 20th; 2, 4, 6, houses down from you on your street. Write down their names, any official information (address/AIM/Facebook), and a paragraph or memory about them. If you do not remember a person, try to explain why he/she has/has not lasted in your memory.
3. Road Trip Story. Tell a story about a road trip you took during your Time Period. This can be anything from a field trip with the school, or a debauched trip to a resort.
4. Important Things List. Write down a list of physical things—ideas, objects, posters, belongings, medicines, drinks or drugs, prescription or not—that were important to you in your Time Period.
5. Hit Parade. Find the top five songs on the charts from the week of either the Big Day or Day in The Life. List them, plus impressions of those songs that stick in your mind. If you don’t remember the song, listen to it and write your impressions.
6. Official Day. Describe a major event in your life that was in fact formal or official—a prom, wedding, graduation day, funeral, acceptance or denial from college.
7. Home and The News. Write:
A. Description of your home during this Time Period: your family (all of the names, full), a description of your bedroom.
B. Description of two stories or events that happened around or near the Day in The Life. Try to use both a newspaper or magazine with TV or internet. Summarize the story and discuss how it might have related or directly related to your own situation.
8. Preparation for the Big Day/Day in The Life. Describe the days leading up to the Big Day or the Day in The Life. Tear away or cut out parts from those parts you have already written, if necessary.
9. Icon Story. Summarize and comment  on a story that was in the news—a specific figure in the culture—from your Time Period. Focus on one person, one event with that person if possible, and explain why you picked it; without, of course saying you “picked it.”
10. Friend. Tell a story from your Time Period about you and a friend, something you did that is memorable to you.

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Midterm Conferences for Summer Personal Essay Class

We’re going these on Google Hangouts. Please have your account set up. If you want to test out your connection, try it with me on Thursday morning, 10am-1:30pm, or 4-7pm.

Friday, June 6

10am Tiaira G


12pm Karlee H

1pm Emily F

2pm Charisse M

3pm Samanth W

4pm Jessica F

5pm Nick M


Saturday, June 7




2pm Maria B



Sunday, June 8


11am Angela D

12pm Allen L

12:30 Connor H

1:30pm Andrea B

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Unit 3: Freewriting for Your Second Personal Essay

2014-02-23 11.16.07

1. Pick one of these 54 Essay Writing Experiments (at least 500 words).

2. Ripped from the Headlines: A News Story Nonfiction Assignment (at least 500 words).

3. Using Philip Lopate’s “Writing Personal Essays: On the Necessity of Turning Oneself Into a Character” as your guide, write a first-person character sketch of yourself as you appear on the page. What “idiosyncrasies, stubborn tics, antisocial mannerisms” that set you apart from other people? If you want, answer these questions from another assignment of mine and exaggerate your answers for effect (at least 500 words). It can be as simple and straightforward as writing “I hate large parties. I love RuPaul’s Drag Race more than anyone else I know. I crack my knuckles in church” and so on (at least 500 words).

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Essay Title Conventions: Some Ideas

The list below reflects some classic essay-naming tropes. Fill in the blank with your own, specific object, term, or idea, and you might end up with a title for your essay.

Against ___________

What We Talk About When We Talk About ___________

On Being a ___________

I Was a Teenage ___________

___________ and Me

Notes On ___________

Death of a ___________

Confessions of a ___________

Variations on ___________

A Few Words About ___________

Consider the ___________

The ___________ Variations

___________: An Essay

___________: Some Thoughts

Some Notes on ___________

Field Notes on ___________

Meditations on ___________

The Art of ___________

The World According to ___________

___________: A Look Back

The Rules of ___________


You might get some ideas here.



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Unit 2: More Freewriting for Your First Personal Essay

2014-04-12 16.10.41

1. Using one of these opening sentences, write at least 500 words. Don’t worry if you stray from the topic or tone set by the opening sentence, but try to return to it at the end of the exercise. (500-1000 words).

2. Write a piece of writing that uses repetition, in particular anaphora. It’s all explained in this post. (500-1000 words). Read Ander Monson’s “Long Live the Jart, Heavy and Pointed and Gleaming” for inspirati0n.

3. Write a “How-To” Essay. This can be something you know very well (something you’re an expert at doing from our earlier freewriting), or something you have no idea about and will fake your way through it. Use numbered steps if you want, but definitely write in the second person (i.e., “you”). Use the assignment here, and read Safire’s “How to Read a Column,” Auerbach’s “How to Screw Up a First Date” and Soderland’s “66 Signs That the Former Student Who Invited You to Dinner is Trying to Seduce You.”

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