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Turning Personal Experiences into an Article
by Kathryn Lay

Have you ever read an article that has touched you in a special way? You think, "That happened to me" or "That's the way I feel" or even, "Maybe I could write about my experience with..."

Personal experience articles can be humorous, sad, informative, or thought-provoking. They remind readers how they felt in a similar situation, or they warn others how to avoid a problem. Many times, readers, learn how to cope with or overcome similar events. And most often, personal experience articles offer hope.

If something special has happened in your life that you think would touch others, there are several ways in which you can turn it into a publishable article.

Your Story

This is an account of something you or someone close to you has experienced that will interest other people--something they can relate to or identify with.

After I went through a false pregnancy following years of infertility, I wrote the article, "No Less A Woman," which has been published four times. Many readers wrote to say it touched, encouraged, helped, or educated them.

Your story may be as deep as surviving a crisis or loss. As personal as understanding an emotion. Or as simple as the result of a momentary encounter that leaves you changed in a small or a large way.

I have written about: my fear of heights, a lost friendship, dealing with honesty, the relationship with my husband as my dear friend, a bite from a brown recluse spider, my husband's second proposal, the pain of infertility, working with refugees, getting in and out of debt, dealing with anger, being falsely accused of a crime, and many more personally experienced situations.

Real-life Drama

Most people have not had the experience of being mauled by a bear or surviving a plane crash, but the fact that someone else went through this adventure or trauma and survived can make compelling reading. "As told to" articles are one way to write someone else's dramatic story. You must first, of course, get the person's permission.

The How-To

In this type of piece, you share what you've experienced emotionally and/or physically while you were pursuing a particular goal, and show others how they might achieve a similar goal.

For instance, has an experience with your children, friends, relatives, or even strangers, or your success in a new venture, given you insight and information that would be valuable to others? Use anecdotes, emotion, and firsthand experience to write your how-to personal experiences.

Once you have found a personal experience you want to write about, study different magazines to find where your story would fit best; each publication has its own needs and style.

Personal experience articles aren't necessarily about momentous events. They might deal with a more common experience, such as your relationship with your mother-in-law. Or in an informative article you may explain how your runaway dog gave you an idea for a new business. Humorous personal experience pieces are always in demand.

There are four basic steps that will help you write a successful personal experience piece:

1) Hook your reader immediately.

A great beginning will tell the readers at the outset what the piece will be about. If it concerns your struggle with a disease and readers are facing the same problem or know someone who is, there is a good chance they will want to read on about your experience.

2) Follow the hook with a statement that explains what the article is about.

Once you have captured your readers' attention or stirred their memories or longings, they will want to know whether your article will give them a story of hope, or solutions to a problem.

3) The body of the piece must be well organized and interesting.

Get your experience down on paper first. During the rewrite see if it can or should be structured differently. Describe your experience as it happened; leave out unnecessary details, but include emotion and tension.

Did you reach a point of no return? Did you give up hope at any point?

Imagine how you would tell your story to a special friend, not to a reporter who wants "just the facts."

4) Wind your article up by returning to your beginning idea.

Give your readers something to think about after they've finished reading your article--an idea, a feeling, or a plan of action they can follow for a similar problem.

Submitting personal experience articles?

Although many magazines will accept unsolicited manuscripts, some prefer query letters first. If there is a limited market for your personal experience, you may not want to spend time writing the complete article. And if, after reading your query, an editor does ask to see the manuscript, you will be able to gear it toward THAT magazine's audience.

As with your article, begin your query with a "grabber" sentence, stating what your piece will be about. Make sure your query reflects whatever emotion you expect your article to evoke in your readers.

Your query should also stress the unique angle of your article, mention expert sources, if any, and why your personal experience may help or make a difference in the lives of the magazine's readers.

Writers of personal experience articles must be willing to open their lives, their emotions, their thoughts. Does it bother you to know that hundreds, thousands, even millions of readers are going to take a peak into your life? Will it bother those you write about or include in your writing? These are considerations as to how personal you will get.

But when you open yourself in this way, you WILL reach others. You may save a life, bring laughter, teach a truth or dispel a myth, give instruction, build hope, take away fear, or give someone the joy that there are others experiencing the same thing as them and they are not alone.

If you enjoy reading personal experience articles, there is a good chance you will enjoy writing them, and get satisfaction from touching readers' hearts and lives.

© Copyright 2001, Kathryn Lay

Kathryn Lay is the author of 26 books for children, over 2000 articles, essays and stories for children and adults and the book from AWOC.COM Publishing, The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer. Check out her website at www.kathrynlay.com and email through rlay15@aol.com

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