Memory

What unusual, one-of-a-kind experience or perspective do you have to offer? What impact did this event have on you? What jogged your memory recently? How can you share your storey with others?

Skill/talent

Do I have a unique skill or talent, or do I lack a skill that everyone else seems to have? A male nanny and a female pilot are two examples. The art of doing something well distinguishes the skilled from the novice, and this essay will examine the distinguishing characteristics that distinguish the novice from the expert. It could also go the Dave Barry route, with a klutz attempting something far out of his league, as a comedian who commented on the Olympics.

Comparison

Why does everyone except me (speak Spanish, wear a size 5)? If only I’d known what I know now back then…. Compare the results of an experience, training, or change before and after.

Opinion

Take an issue or incident in the news and portray the unpopular or overlooked point of view. Example: Why does the media regard male bashing as humorous but would scream like apes if the same joke were made at women? What irritates you? What is it that makes you laugh? What are your priorities? To find your solution, dig deep. Your personal experience must be used to support and detail the reasons for your particular viewpoint. Are you an authority on this subject? Get to the bottom of WHY you have an opinion on the subject.

Observation

Fashions, trends, and behaviours. In a politically correct world, be non-politically correct. Go against the grain. Consider things from a different angle. Consider what happened when I took my daughter to a hockey game despite the fact that neither of us knew what we were doing. What details bring the subject to life? What is your initial impression? What about the second?

Rick Reilly’s Sports Illustrated essay “On a Wing and a Prayer” is my all-time favourite first-person piece. He discusses his thrilling flight in an F-14 Tomcat in it. I defy you not to laugh as this non-pilot layman explains his flight. By clicking on his name above, you may read this masterpiece in only a few minutes.

Try this activity to generate ideas for essays and first-person articles: write down at least 5 things you excel at, 5 things about which you have strong opinions, and 5 childhood memories as fast as possible. Choose something from the list and write about it. Now.

The following are some examples of places where beginning writers can sell their first-person articles:

The Christian Science Monitor pays $75-$160 for “upbeat, personal pieces from 300 to 900 words” and publishes them. Aim for a combination of wit and poignant personal anecdotes. See http://www.csmonitor.com/aboutus/guidelines/ for their tone and topic matter, as well as their online archives.

Underwired is a website that seeks 800-1200 word personal essays from women. Check out their monthly themes to make sure your work fits the bill. They provide $100 for each essay. Their instructions can be found at http://uwmag.com.

PIECE OF OPINION

An Opinion Piece, often known as an opinion essay, is less personal than a First Person Article, but it still requires a narrow emphasis. Writing about a whole industry will not set you apart from the majority of other writers on the subject. Find your sub-category or niche. Ask the journalistic questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How to narrow your focus. To that, I add a query that my college editor always asked: “Who cares?” If you’re the only one who cares about the subject, don’t expect editors to send you a contract. Consider your essay or article from the perspective of the reader.

The reader’s fundamental question is, “Why are you competent to provide an opinion?” Everyone has an opinion, so why should anyone care to read yours? If you’re an authority on this subject, let the reader know right away. Let’s imagine you want to write an opinion piece about America’s obesity crisis. Are you a registered dietitian? Are you a doctor? Are you a sports coach? Are you a chronic dieter who has tried every fad diet out there? Show your credentials to give your opinion the weight it deserves.