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  • J Perinat Educ
  • v.22(1); Winter 2013

My Birth Story is Like a Dream: A Childbirth Educator’s Childbirth

Fear of childbirth is universal. Because of the stories of bad experiences passed down for years, many women fear childbirth. As a result, many women do not believe in the power of their own bodies and often hand over control of their bodies to health-care professionals, resulting in unhappy childbirth experiences because of unnecessary intervention during labor and birth. As a pregnancy trainer who prepares pregnant women for childbirth, the author wrote her personal childbirth story with an autoethnographic narrative method. Her aim is to help motivate pregnant women preparing for childbirth, health-care professionals preparing those pregnant women, and birthing staff.

And the moment that I have been anticipating for days, months, and years even has come. I took a deep breath and pushed down my baby with own power while I followed my body. Before my breath finished, my baby came sliding out of me. While I exhaled, I quietly said that he is born. They put my son into my arms even before cutting his umbilical cord. He was warm, wet, soft, and smelled sweet. He screamed joyfully, and I thanked him repeatedly for giving me this wonderful experience. The doctors and nurses were looking on at that remarkable moment when our son joined our family, confused, happy, and teary eyed. They stared at us with questioning expressions because they had just watched a birth so vastly different from the fearful births they had witnessed in the past—fearfulness that resulted from the negative birth stories that have been handed down to women for years and have eroded their confidence and power regarding birth. How had it come to this?


Autoethnography is an autobiographical writing by someone who has had different life experiences ( Schneider, 2005 ). Ellis and Boucher (2000) describe autoethnography as a method through which the author relates personal experiences and the social and cultural effects of concepts on these experiences. For health-care staff working with human, sociocultural beings, autoethnographical work can be particularly valuable, enabling them to see events through the eyes of the individual patient and consequently develop greater empathy, better understand his or her needs, and have a more positive influence on the quality of nursing/midwifery provided.

Autoethnographical articles can guide nurses and midwives working in health-care settings in this direction and gives them the opportunity to relate the facts as they happen to clinical data ( Smith and Gallo, 2007 ). Richards (2008) states that autoethnography is particularly suited to writing about illness and disability. Given this statement, I realized that most of the health-related autoethnographies I had examined in the literature had indeed shared experiences about ill health ( Forhan 2010 ; Grant 2010 ; Kelly, 2010 ; Lahman, 2009 ; Richards, 2008 ). My experience, however, was not like that, and I later realized that health-related autoethnographies should not just be centered on patients who are unwell. Although labor is a global fear, childbirth is actually a healthy biological event. Because autoethnographies can have implications for practical applications, it is important that they be used to turn the process into something seen as healthy and normal, rather than one that falls under the category of illness.

I wanted to write an autoethnography of my child’s birth. In fact, I had already planned to do it before I became pregnant. I believed I should share my childbirth experience no matter what happened, and I really did wonder what kind of a childbirth experience I would have when I applied the very same advice I had been suggesting to pregnant women as a pregnancy trainer.

I have spent almost one third of my life thinking and reading about childbirth and applying the knowledge I have gained. So far, I have witnessed more than a thousand childbirths. Each of these births was different because each mother was different, and each brought with them different life experiences. I believe that the experiences a woman has, even those she had inside her own mother’s womb, have an effect on how she gives birth to her child. Setting out my reflections on my own birthing experience and what I know about birth and my own body will, I believe, help to guide pregnant women, health-care workers who provide support during childbirth, doulas, and husbands.

I am a childbirth practitioner. I help to prepare pregnant women for a natural and satisfying birth experience, one that they will never forget and will always enjoy talking about. There is only a limited time to prepare these mothers-to-be, and, in the time available to me, I need to be highly motivated in what I do to prepare them to help them have the kind of childbirth experience they want. Most pregnant women say that they gained a better, more beautiful birth experience than they had dreamed of. I do not know how much they really internalized what I tell them in such a short time. I wonder, too, how much I have internalized about what I explain to them and whether my own body has also learned what my mind had already learned and accepted. If it had, would it be able to put it all into practice?

I believe that the experiences a woman has, even those she had inside her own mother’s womb, have an effect on how she gives birth to her child.

When I started my training to be a childbirth practitioner, I was still single and not yet thinking about having a baby. However, I used to say that if I ever did have a child, I would chose a cesarean birth because I was deeply affected by all the childbirths I saw when I was a student nurse. Generally speaking, what I had observed was that both women and health-care personnel lost control during the moments of childbirth. It was almost as if they lost their basic humanity. I did not even want to imagine myself in such a position.

Then, while I was studying for my doctorate, I met a team whose perspective on childbirth was completely different from mine. In the antenatal education class I attended, they argued the case that pregnant women should have a normal birth. The more I listened to them, the more my own ideas began to change. I started reading more and researching the topic. New concepts such as natural birth came into my life. In what ways is it different than normal birth? It took me a long time to understand this, and it made me think about whether the births I had observed in clinics were normal or not. Health-care professionals in the birth units call these births “normal spontaneous vaginal birth.” In reality, these words do not convey what actually happens. For a birth to be “normal,” it needs to happen exclusively through the efforts of the mother and baby. In other words, a woman needs to give birth to a baby by herself. This is also the case for a birth to be called “spontaneous,” it needs to start by itself. In the births I had witnessed, however, a series of interventions accelerated the birth process and helped to alleviate pregnant women’s pain. Given this situation, these were just instances of “vaginal birth.”

What, then, is a natural birth? Is it a birth without any intervention? What if intervention is needed? Does that mean it is not a natural birth? I think not. Each birth has its own characteristics. Different women have different childbirth experiences; no two births are the same, even for the same woman. For me, the best way to describe natural birth is “noninterventional birth in its own nature.” In other words, it is when the event of childbirth is left to mother and baby while the process is monitored by health-care professionals with the expectation that there will be a healthy birth without any necessary intervention. Certainly, intervention is sometimes needed for the mother and baby’s well-being during the birth process, but it should be only as much as is required. In a sense, even this can be considered a “natural” birth because the interventions occur in response to the nature of that particular birth.

Gradually, my personal theory about childbirth changed, although it was not an easy transition. It took me a long time to sort out all the contradictions I had observed in the terminology and to truly believe in the position I had arrived at. Believing is essential because if the trainer believes, the pregnant woman will also believe and will more easily put the theory she is learning into practice. During this time, I also received training to be a HypnoBirthing practitioner, a process that made a deep impression on me. HypnoBirthing is a method that puts emphasis on each woman realizing her own power, believing in herself and her baby, and feeling confident that she can give birth safely and calmly ( Mongan, 2005 ). The HypnoBirthing training included exercises, which gave me an opportunity to experientially discover how the body follows the brain. I became convinced that you can live the birth moment to the fullest if you believe you are going to have a natural birth and can make your body believe this too. I began explaining to the women in my childbirth classes what I had learned in HypnoBirthing education with positive energy, and we did the exercises and shared the results together. It was clear that these women had started to feel happier about the idea of giving birth. At the same time, demand for my childbirth classes increased.


Three years later, after I had gotten married, my belief in birth as a powerful and empowering experience motivated me to get pregnant. After an 8-month wait, a little heart began beating and growing inside me, and my love and excitement grew along with it. From the moment I learned I was pregnant, I began imagining and preparing for a natural birth, and I happily awaited my giving birth.

I was eating well, exercising and practicing yoga to prepare both my mind and my body for a natural birth, and made a particular point of doing breathing and relaxation exercises. I recorded the relaxation text, which had been given to us in the HypnoBirthing training with my voice and accompanied it with some of my favorite music. Every day I would lie down, switch on my music player, and relax my whole body as I listened. There was something inspirational about the recording that motivated me to have a natural birth. My relaxed body was soaking up these inspirations and fixing them in my mind, and I had the feeling that my baby was also very happy during these moments.

Relaxation is a very important and valuable application for pregnancy and labor. Studies have shown that relaxation exercises performed regularly during pregnancy make it easier to achieve relaxation during labor ( Saisto, Toivanen, Salmela-Aro, & Halmensmäki, 2006 ), which makes it a more comfortable experience. I noticed how calm and relaxed the women in the HypnoBirthing training videos were and that they seemed to enjoy very comfortable labors as a result. Learning how to relax was, I discovered, just like learning how to ride a bike. The desired effect does not come immediately, but learning the techniques is enjoyable in itself, and, once they’re mastered, it is possible to arrive quickly at a state of deep relaxation. While I was practicing relaxation, to help with the learning process, I preferred listening to my own voice recordings. I accepted it as my inner voice. My inner voice and I were alone, relaxing. I also formed a “mind zone” as another facilitator. It was a place I had created where I could most feel comfortable, and I imagined myself in that place at every relaxation time. In my mind zone, my husband, my baby, and I were flying in a balloon, floating in the air. To make this place more clearly in my mind, my husband and I painted this image on the wall of my son’s room. In the entire house, this was the room that most motivated me for the birth. I loved to dream that my son was smiling at me among all the toys which I had bought for him. I spent most of my time in that room, doing exercises, relaxing, and dreaming. It was as though the little lines of encouragement I had posted all around my home were making my mind and body stronger with each passing day:

“A body that knows how to make a baby also knows how to birth a baby.” “I trust in my baby and my body.”

Social networking sites were another important factor in increasing and sustaining my motivation to give birth naturally. The websites I frequented were a gathering place for people connected to and supportive of natural childbirth: pregnant women, doctors, midwives, pregnancy trainers, and labor doulas. Everyone was looking forward to hearing each other’s birth stories, and each positive story gave encouragement to those who would be giving birth next.

My pregnancy was going well. But when I shared my dream about the birth, most people around me responded with surprise and negativity, often saying things such as “How dare you? A cesarean is a healthy method for the baby. Why put your baby at risk?” These kinds of unsupportive responses did not come as a surprise to me. Although the World Health Organization suggests that the percentage of cesarean birth performed is 10%–15% ( World Health Organization [WHO], 1985 ), in my home country of Turkey, the rate of cesarean births is increasing annually. According to 2003 data from the Turkish Demographic Health Survey (TDHS), 21.2% of deliveries in Turkey were via cesarean birth. By 2008, however, TDHS figures showed this had increased to 36.7% ( TDHS, 2003 , 2008 ). And in the western part of Turkey, where I live, the rate of cesarean births was 45.1%, meaning that nearly half of the local women chose cesarean method at the time of my birth. In particular, women with high socioeconomic and sociocultural status preferred cesarean births. Because I was familiar with these statistics, their words did not affect me much. My response was simple, “Please, let’s talk about positive things. My baby is negatively affected by such words.”

Much more difficult for me was the fact that my husband also wanted me to give birth to our son by cesarean birth. As a surgeon himself, he believed that surgery was a safer way to resolve a pregnancy, and although he did not want to demotivate me, he would occasionally say things like, “If you find it hard, you can have a cesarean.” My husband had never seen a natural birth. He had only encountered this concept through me, and he was afraid that he would not be able to give me the right kind of support in a natural birth, whereas if the birth occurred as part of a surgical procedure, he would know very well how to support me.

It was then that I realized that if I really wanted to have natural birth, it was not just I who needed to prepare. All the people who would be playing a role at the birth moment should be ready for it as well. Having discovered for myself how essential a husband’s support was for the woman’s motivation, I tried to involve husbands more in the childbirth preparation classes I was giving. During my own pregnancy, I gave classes to four preparations for birth groups, and I persuaded my husband to join these groups, too. Yet, he still was not convinced of the benefits of a natural birth. I could see that he needed to hear what I was telling him from someone else, so we attended another childbirth class, after which his ideas completely changed. He started telling his friends, “I am a birth coach now. We are going to take our son into our arms after a natural birth.”

It was not difficult for me to arrange the place where I would give birth. My husband and I were both working in the same hospital and were so used to spending most of our time there instead of at home that we knew we would feel very comfortable. I enjoyed my work in the birthing unit, my colleagues were like my family, and the whole team was looking forward to the birth.

Unfortunately, doctors, rather than midwives, deliver babies in this hospital. I chose a doctor whom I felt certain would be calm, reasonable, and respectful to both me and my baby and presented my preferences to him on a piece of paper: I did not want any unnecessary intervention, and I wanted to be free during the labor. These preferences were so different from his philosophy that it took 6 months of constant talking to him and inundating him with publications to persuade him to agree to my plan.


Forty weeks and 5 days into the pregnancy, my baby and I were still together. I felt his movements less now—they were smaller than they had been but stronger. My phone was ringing off the hook, at least 20 people calling me everyday to ask if I have given birth and scaring me by saying things like, “What if something’s wrong with the baby?” My mother was waiting impatiently for her first grandson, constantly saying, “It’s high time the baby made an appearance.” I became so fed up, especially in the last 10 days of my pregnancy that in the pregnancy classes that I gave after my baby was born, I suggested to the mothers-to-be that they not tell anyone the approximate birth date to avoid similar experiences.

I made myself believe that my son would be born in the night, having heard somewhere that animals that sleep in the daytime birth in the night and vice versa (which seemed to show that privacy and protection are important in nature.) In the weeks and days leading up to my due date, I tried my best to go to sleep early every day so as not to be tired when I finally went into labor. I would fall asleep rubbing my abdomen and thinking, “Maybe I’ll smell you tonight baby.” But when morning came, I would wake to find my baby was still saying, “Good morning, mommy!” from my womb.

It was another such morning when I went to the toilet and saw the first thrilling sign that the birth was finally going to happen. My husband and my mother were home, but I said nothing to them because I wanted to stay at home until the contractions became more frequent. I put my hand on my abdomen and could feel uterine contractions, but they were not bothering me at all. We had a nice family breakfast, took a walk by the sea for 2 hours, and went to the market, and then I cleaned my house in a squatting position. (Knowing that squatting is one of the most appropriate positions during labor because it enables the baby to move more easily in the birth canal [ Balaskas, 1992 ], I was seeking any excuse to squat.)

That evening, I was feeling quite energetic and dynamic. At around 9:00 p.m., while we were all watching TV together, I fell asleep on the living room sofa. At 11 p.m., my mother woke me up to tell me to go to my bed, but by then I felt wide awake, so she went to bed herself—a relief to me because I was sure she would treat me like an invalid if she thought the birth was imminent. My husband was not sleepy either, so we decided to watch a documentary about dolphins giving birth. I told him that our baby could come to the world that day, but he just laughed and said, “The dolphin might be giving birth today, but you won’t.” Then he too decided to go to bed.

I was having contractions, but I would not have even noticed them had I not put my hand on my abdomen. I was also feeling some pressure on my perineum, but the contractions I had felt during the pregnancy had disturbed me more. I decided to take a shower, and the warm water combined with the smell of the shampoo made me feel great. I blow dried my hair, put on some nail polish, prepared the clothes I would wear to go to the hospital, and ate an apple. Then, I finally went to bed.

At around 2:00 a.m., I put my hand on my abdomen and tried to time my contractions, which by now were frequent and long lasting. Because of the stories of labor pains that I still had in my mind, however, I didn’t think they could be birth contractions. I switched on my relaxation recording. While I was relaxing my whole body, I suddenly felt nauseous and vomited. My husband and mother both woke up, and my husband said to me, “It cannot be time for birth, but perhaps something is wrong. We should go to the hospital.” We grabbed the already-packed bags, got in the car, and turned on an enjoyable song to listen to during the drive.

On the way, I continued with my breathing and relaxation exercises. I could sense an amazing cocktail of hormones flowing through my body. I had never felt so happy, energetic, and motivated. These were the last moments of my baby inside me, and we were enjoying it! Everybody was calm as we headed to the delivery room. It was 2:50 a.m. The team on night duty was sitting around eating a pizza. I told them, “Don’t trouble yourselves, it’s not time for the birth. We just came in for a checkup.” The on-duty doctor put a hand on my abdomen and said, “The contractions are severe. I think I should examine you.” I lay on the examination couch and he made a vaginal examination.

“Are you feeling any contractions?” he asked. “Yes, I am, but I’m not uncomfortable. I just feel pressure on my perineum sometimes. The breathing and relaxation exercises are working out.” “Interesting,” he said. “Effacement is 100%, and you are 9 cm dilated. I cannot believe that you’ve managed to stay so calm all this time, but this is your first pregnancy, so we’ll wait another half an hour for you to be fully dilated. In the meantime, why don’t you put on something comfortable?”

At that point, I collected myself and asked the personnel to make the head of the bed as upright as possible. Suddenly, just as I was about to stand up, I felt severe pressure on my perineum. At the same time, I felt like I would explode with excitement. Odent (2003) notes that with births where there is no intervention or fear, a sudden adrenaline rush can occur just before the fetal ejection reflex. This is exactly what happened in my birth. Overcome by a sensation like the thrill you get at the moment you parachute off a mountainside and shout out with joy at the top of your voice, I screamed uncontrollably. Realizing that the doctor, my husband, and the nurse were all staring at me in amazement, I told them, “Everything’s okay, don’t worry. There is no pain, just a sudden adrenaline rush.” Odent (2003) notes that, with births where there is no intervention or fear, a sudden adrenaline rush can occur just before the fetal ejection reflex. This is what happened in my birth. I settled myself back onto the bed and felt the urge to push. My body position was as straight as possible. I took a deep breath and pushed my baby downward with all my power. “Push slowly,” my birth doctor warned me. “The baby’s coming too fast. I’ll have to do an episiotomy.” But I just could not slow myself down, and the episiotomy was done at the last moment. In my terms, it was a natural birth throughout, without any intervention other than the episiotomy. Is it still possible, therefore, to call this a natural birth? I think it is. It was completely natural because the intervention happened only when necessary.

Overcome by a sensation like the thrill you get at the moment you parachute off a mountainside and shout out with joy at the top of your voice, I screamed uncontrollably.

Two or 3 weeks later, when I had the chance to make some time for myself and think about the birth, I wondered whether the episiotomy might have been unnecessary. After all, I had given myself regular perineal massages every day after the 30th week of my pregnancy specifically to avoid perineal laceration or an episiotomy, just as suggested by evidence-based practice ( Berghella, Baxter, & Chauhan, 2008 ). I thought my perineum was ready for the birth. Why did they have to do an episiotomy? I had been in a squatting position, which is the most appropriate position for birth, and had pushed the baby by grasping and pulling my knees up toward me. The baby came out of my vagina very quickly both because I pushed my baby uncontrollably fast, and because of the fetal ejection reflex combined with an adrenaline rush. Perhaps if I had been in the “polar bear” position Mongan (2005) suggested for quick delivery, I would have been able to give birth without the need for an episiotomy.

I was in a state of shock after the delivery, unable to believe my baby was now in my arms. It was 3:15 a.m. Just 25 minutes had passed since I had gone into the delivery room. The birth was not the way some people had described it. It was totally painless, joyful, exciting, and quick. My baby was so good. At first, he greeted the world with loud screams, presumably because of the effects of the hormone cocktail, but he calmed down after he was cradled in my arms and heard me say, “Welcome, my baby. We have been waiting for you for so long. We love you so much, do not cry.” He began looking around curiously with his eyes wide open.


My child’s birth is one of the rare moments in my 30 years that I would like to experience again and again. I understood that my mind had been able to direct my body, and I realized my inner power. As a pregnancy trainer, I try to do my best to help the women in my class realize the power that resides deep inside them. I’ve also realized, however, that what motivates these women most about the births they will experience are real birth stories. They draw more strength from such narratives, and more readily apply the advice they receive because they understand that what they’re hearing is not imaginary or merely theoretical. Of course, a pregnancy trainer does not have to have given birth to be effective, but perhaps women with positive birth stories should be invited to come and share their birth experiences with classes as a matter of course.

Showing that the body obeys instructions from the mind increases women’s trust in their bodies and confidence in their ability to direct their own birth experience. Because of this, the number of exercises devoted to this process should be increased. Fear of what might happen while giving birth is perhaps the most important factor negatively affecting childbirth. If a woman cannot overcome this fear during her preparation classes, she can be directed to psychotherapy.

In the birth preparation classes I gave after my birth, the number of natural births and satisfaction levels among my students gradually increased. Training has become more enjoyable both for me and the women in my classes. I show them my son’s birth video at the end of the course as a surprise. They get very excited and burst into tears and leave class saying, “We want to live birth moment immediately!” What comes next is so beautiful. There is an unexpected phone call from either the mother or father saying, “Our baby has been born. The birth was amazing. Thank you so much.” Often, they come to visit me with their babies. These are the kinds of precious moments a pregnancy trainer can never forget.


Negative birth experiences recounted by women of a previous generation can create fears among women in the next generation, which lead to their own negative birth experiences. Present-day “sickly thinking” about the process of childbirth causes that kind of worry mongering to continue being passed down in an unhealthy way. Such thinking can only be overcome by the sharing of positive experiences that will help women to reduce their fears about giving birth, motivate them about the process, and assist them in having positive birth experiences. Uotinen (2011) states that in talking about bodily unbeknown knowledge, autoethnography is an appropriate method for information analysis. Writing this article, I have realized that I have presented a synthesis of the relationship between knowledge and experience and have analyzed and interpreted that relationship. I hope my birth story will be a guide for pregnant women, childbirth health-care professionals, and academicians working on natural delivery.


I would like to thank Uzay Isbir who is my son, Caner Isbir who is my husband, Prof. Dr. Hülya Okumuş who is my teacher and the first childbirth educator of Turkey, and Dr. Hakan Çoker who is our childbirth educator for a beautiful natural birth experience.

GÖZDE G. ISBIR, PhD, RN, is an assistant professor at Nigde University Zubeyde Hanım School of Health, Nigde, Turkey.

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Telling the Story of Yourself: 6 Steps to Writing Personal Narratives

Jennifer Xue

Jennifer Xue

writing personal narratives

Table of Contents

Why do we write personal narratives, 6 guidelines for writing personal narrative essays, inspiring personal narratives, examples of personal narrative essays, tell your story.

First off, you might be wondering: what is a personal narrative? In short, personal narratives are stories we tell about ourselves that focus on our growth, lessons learned, and reflections on our experiences.

From stories about inspirational figures we heard as children to any essay, article, or exercise where we're asked to express opinions on a situation, thing, or individual—personal narratives are everywhere.

According to Psychology Today, personal narratives allow authors to feel and release pains, while savouring moments of strength and resilience. Such emotions provide an avenue for both authors and readers to connect while supporting healing in the process.

That all sounds great. But when it comes to putting the words down on paper, we often end up with a list of experiences and no real structure to tie them together.

In this article, we'll discuss what a personal narrative essay is further, learn the 6 steps to writing one, and look at some examples of great personal narratives.

As readers, we're fascinated by memoirs, autobiographies, and long-form personal narrative articles, as they provide a glimpse into the authors' thought processes, ideas, and feelings. But you don't have to be writing your whole life story to create a personal narrative.

You might be a student writing an admissions essay , or be trying to tell your professional story in a cover letter. Regardless of your purpose, your narrative will focus on personal growth, reflections, and lessons.

Personal narratives help us connect with other people's stories due to their easy-to-digest format and because humans are empathising creatures.

We can better understand how others feel and think when we were told stories that allow us to see the world from their perspectives. The author's "I think" and "I feel" instantaneously become ours, as the brain doesn't know whether what we read is real or imaginary.

In her best-selling book Wired for Story, Lisa Cron explains that the human brain craves tales as it's hard-wired through evolution to learn what happens next. Since the brain doesn't know whether what you are reading is actual or not, we can register the moral of the story cognitively and affectively.

In academia, a narrative essay tells a story which is experiential, anecdotal, or personal. It allows the author to creatively express their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and opinions. Its length can be anywhere from a few paragraphs to hundreds of pages.

Outside of academia, personal narratives are known as a form of journalism or non-fiction works called "narrative journalism." Even highly prestigious publications like the New York Times and Time magazine have sections dedicated to personal narratives. The New Yorke is a magazine dedicated solely to this genre.

The New York Times holds personal narrative essay contests. The winners are selected because they:

had a clear narrative arc with a conflict and a main character who changed in some way. They artfully balanced the action of the story with reflection on what it meant to the writer. They took risks, like including dialogue or playing with punctuation, sentence structure and word choice to develop a strong voice. And, perhaps most important, they focused on a specific moment or theme – a conversation, a trip to the mall, a speech tournament, a hospital visit – instead of trying to sum up the writer’s life in 600 words.

In a nutshell, a personal narrative can cover any reflective and contemplative subject with a strong voice and a unique perspective, including uncommon private values. It's written in first person and the story encompasses a specific moment in time worthy of a discussion.

Writing a personal narrative essay involves both objectivity and subjectivity. You'll need to be objective enough to recognise the importance of an event or a situation to explore and write about. On the other hand, you must be subjective enough to inject private thoughts and feelings to make your point.

With personal narratives, you are both the muse and the creator – you have control over how your story is told. However, like any other type of writing, it comes with guidelines.

1. Write Your Personal Narrative as a Story

As a story, it must include an introduction, characters, plot, setting, climax, anti-climax (if any), and conclusion. Another way to approach it is by structuring it with an introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction should set the tone, while the body should focus on the key point(s) you want to get across. The conclusion can tell the reader what lessons you have learned from the story you've just told.

2. Give Your Personal Narrative a Clear Purpose

Your narrative essay should reflect your unique perspective on life. This is a lot harder than it sounds. You need to establish your perspective, the key things you want your reader to take away, and your tone of voice. It's a good idea to have a set purpose in mind for the narrative before you start writing.

Let's say you want to write about how you manage depression without taking any medicine. This could go in any number of ways, but isolating a purpose will help you focus your writing and choose which stories to tell. Are you advocating for a holistic approach, or do you want to describe your emotional experience for people thinking of trying it?

Having this focus will allow you to put your own unique take on what you did (and didn't do, if applicable), what changed you, and the lessons learned along the way.

3. Show, Don't Tell

It's a narration, so the narrative should show readers what happened, instead of telling them. As well as being a storyteller, the author should take part as one of the characters. Keep this in mind when writing, as the way you shape your perspective can have a big impact on how your reader sees your overarching plot. Don't slip into just explaining everything that happened because it happened to you. Show your reader with action.

dialogue tags

You can check for instances of telling rather than showing with ProWritingAid. For example, instead of:

"You never let me do anything!" I cried disdainfully.
"You never let me do anything!" To this day, my mother swears that the glare I levelled at her as I spat those words out could have soured milk.

Using ProWritingAid will help you find these instances in your manuscript and edit them without spending hours trawling through your work yourself.

4. Use "I," But Don't Overuse It

You, the author, take ownership of the story, so the first person pronoun "I" is used throughout. However, you shouldn't overuse it, as it'd make it sound too self-centred and redundant.

ProWritingAid can also help you here – the Style Report will tell you if you've started too many sentences with "I", and show you how to introduce more variation in your writing.

5. Pay Attention to Tenses

Tense is key to understanding. Personal narratives mostly tell the story of events that happened in the past, so many authors choose to use the past tense. This helps separate out your current, narrating voice and your past self who you are narrating. If you're writing in the present tense, make sure that you keep it consistent throughout.

tenses in narratives

6. Make Your Conclusion Satisfying

Satisfy your readers by giving them an unforgettable closing scene. The body of the narration should build up the plot to climax. This doesn't have to be something incredible or shocking, just something that helps give an interesting take on your story.

The takeaways or the lessons learned should be written without lecturing. Whenever possible, continue to show rather than tell. Don't say what you learned, narrate what you do differently now. This will help the moral of your story shine through without being too preachy.

GoodReads is a great starting point for selecting read-worthy personal narrative books. Here are five of my favourites.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen, the author of 386 books, wrote this poetic story about a daughter and her father who went owling. Instead of learning about owls, Yolen invites readers to contemplate the meaning of gentleness and hope.

Night by Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel was a teenager when he and his family were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. This Holocaust memoir has a strong message that such horrific events should never be repeated.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

This classic is a must-read by young and old alike. It's a remarkable diary by a 13-year-old Jewish girl who hid inside a secret annexe of an old building during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in 1942.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

This is a personal narrative written by a brave author renowned for her clarity, passion, and honesty. Didion shares how in December 2003, she lost her husband of 40 years to a massive heart attack and dealt with the acute illness of her only daughter. She speaks about grief, memories, illness, and hope.

Educated by Tara Westover

Author Tara Westover was raised by survivalist parents. She didn't go to school until 17 years of age, which later took her to Harvard and Cambridge. It's a story about the struggle for quest for knowledge and self-reinvention.

Narrative and personal narrative journalism are gaining more popularity these days. You can find distinguished personal narratives all over the web.

Curating the best of the best of personal narratives and narrative essays from all over the web. Some are award-winning articles.


Long-form writing to celebrate humanity through storytelling. It publishes personal narrative essays written to provoke, inspire, and reflect, touching lesser-known and overlooked subjects.

Narrative Magazine

It publishes non,fiction narratives, poetry, and fiction. Among its contributors is Frank Conroy, the author of Stop-Time , a memoir that has never been out of print since 1967.

Thought Catalog

Aimed at Generation Z, it publishes personal narrative essays on self-improvement, family, friendship, romance, and others.

Personal narratives will continue to be popular as our brains are wired for stories. We love reading about others and telling stories of ourselves, as they bring satisfaction and a better understanding of the world around us.

Personal narratives make us better humans. Enjoy telling yours!

personal narrative essay giving birth

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Love writing? ProWritingAid will help you improve the style, strength, and clarity of your stories.

Jennifer Xue is an award-winning e-book author with 2,500+ articles and 100+ e-books/reports published under her belt. She also taught 50+ college-level essay and paper writing classes. Her byline has appeared in Forbes, Fortune, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Business.com, Business2Community, Addicted2Success, Good Men Project, and others. Her blog is JenniferXue.com. Follow her on Twitter @jenxuewrites].

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How to Write a Personal Narrative

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  • M.Ed., Education Administration, University of Georgia
  • B.A., History, Armstrong State University

The personal narrative essay can be the most enjoyable type of assignment to write because it provides you with an opportunity to share a meaningful event from your life. After all, how often do you get to tell funny stories or brag about a great experience and receive school credit for it?

Think of a Memorable Event 

A personal narrative can focus on any event, whether it is one that lasted a few seconds or spanned a few years. Your topic can reflect your personality, or it can reveal an event that shaped your outlook and opinions. Your story should have a clear point. If nothing comes to mind, try one of these examples: 

  • A learning experience that challenged and changed you;
  • A new discovery that came about in an interesting way;
  • Something funny that happened to you or your family;
  • A lesson you learned the hard way.

Planning Your Narrative

Start this process with a brainstorming session , taking a few moments to scribble down several memorable events from your life. Remember, this doesn’t have to be high drama: Your event could be anything from blowing your first bubble gum bubble to getting lost in the woods. If you think your life doesn't have that many interesting events, try to come up with one or more examples for each of the following:

  • Times you laughed the hardest
  • Times you felt sorry for your actions
  • Painful memories
  • Times you were surprised
  • Scariest moments

Next, look over your list of events and narrow your choices by selecting those that have a clear chronological pattern , and those that would enable you to use colorful, entertaining, or interesting details and descriptions. 

Finally, decide if your topic has a point. A funny story might represent irony in life or a lesson learned in a comical way; a scary story might demonstrate how you learned from a mistake. Decide on the point of your final topic and keep it in mind as you write.

Show, Don’t Tell 

Your story should be written in the first-person point of view. In a narrative, the writer is the storyteller, so you can write this through your own eyes and ears. Make the reader experience what you experienced—not just read what you experienced.

Do this by imagining that you are reliving your event. As you think about your story, describe on paper what you see, hear, smell, and feel, as follows:

Describing Actions

Don't say:

"My sister ran off."

Instead, say:

"My sister jumped a foot in the air and disappeared behind the closest tree."

Describing Moods

"Everyone felt on edge."
"We were all afraid to breathe. Nobody made a sound."

Elements to Include

Write your story in chronological order . Make a brief outline showing the sequence of events before you begin to write the narrative. This will keep you on track. Your story should include the following:

Characters : Who are the people involved in your story? What are their significant character traits ?

Tense : Your story already happened, so, generally, write in the past tense. Some writers are effective in telling stories in the present tense—but that usually isn't a good idea.

Voice : Are you attempting to be funny, somber, or serious? Are you telling the story of your 5-year-old self?

Conflict : Any good story should have a conflict, which can come in many forms. Conflict can be between you and your neighbor’s dog, or it can be two feelings you are experiencing at one time, like guilt versus the need to be popular.

Descriptive language : Make an effort to broaden your vocabulary and use expressions, techniques, and words that you don’t normally use. This will make your paper more entertaining and interesting, and it will make you a better writer.

Your main point: The story you write should come to a satisfying or interesting end. Do not attempt to describe an obvious lesson directly—it should come from observations and discoveries.

Don't say: "I learned not to make judgments about people based on their appearances."

Instead, say: "Maybe the next time I bump into an elderly lady with greenish skin and a large, crooked nose, I'll greet her with a smile. Even if she is clutching a warped and twisted broomstick."

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Nothing Went According to Plan When I Gave Birth, and It Was Terrifying

Pexels / Rene Asmussen https://www.pexels.com/@reneasmussen

The day after my due date, I was still very much pregnant. My mom asked me if I wanted to go shopping with her, but I told her I'd rather stay home and do the laundry. That should have been my first clue that something wasn't right. She offered to take my 2-year-old with her so that I could get some peace, but when I started the first load, I felt an inflating sensation in my stomach. It didn't hurt, but I texted my husband who worked two hours away. He said he had an important meeting to attend, but he'd leave if I thought I was in labor. I honestly wasn't sure if I was, so I told him to stay put until further notice. Just a few days before, I had the same feeling in my stomach, but was told by the doctor they were Braxton Hicks contractions . My husband decided to leave work just in case.

My mom was worried she'd have to pull over on the freeway and deliver her granddaughter herself.

It wasn't long before I knew they were real contractions, since the pain became so bad I had to get down on my hands and knees to breathe. Once they were occurring every five minutes, I called my mom to pick me up, and we were on our way. During a quick stop at the gas station (one I told my mom I was OK with), things took a turn for the worse. My contractions suddenly began occurring faster and were way more intense. I was screaming and holding onto the car's roof handle so hard, I thought I was going to break it. At this point, my contractions were occurring every two minutes, and my mom was worried she'd have to pull over on the freeway and deliver her granddaughter herself.

Fortunately, we made it to the hospital , but the pain was so intense, I couldn't even walk. I could barely even talk. The doctor checked me and said I was 7 centimeters dilated and 100 percent effaced. An epidural was ordered immediately, but I would soon find out that my baby had other plans. The contractions began worsening, and I kept yelling at the nurse that I needed to push, although she repeatedly advised me not to because "I would tear," to which I screamed back at her, "I don't care!"

Within minutes, I was rushed over to the delivery room. While the nurses were wheeling me over, they didn't realize that I was holding onto the bed's railing and accidentally smashed my finger on the door frame (but to be honest, that pain was nothing compared to what was going on downstairs). I was checked again — 9.5 centimeters dilated. All of a sudden, there were five nurses trying to hook me up and prepare me for birth. One of them frantically put my IV in, but it came out in all of the chaos and was leaking all over me. Another nurse told me it was now too late to have an epidural or any other type of relief , which was my absolute worst fear. At that point, I was having a full-blown panic attack, couldn't focus on my breathing at all, and was completely screaming my head off, because the pain was so tremendous. I repeatedly screamed at the doctor and nurses that I needed to push, and finally, at 4:30 p.m., the doctor told me I could. My little girl was born on the third push!

But that isn't where my crazy birth story ends. My baby was born with a veil, meaning the thin membrane of the amniotic sac was covering her face.

But that isn't where my crazy birth story ends. My baby was born with a veil, meaning the thin membrane of the amniotic sac was covering her face . The doctor immediately removed the membrane and reassured us that my baby was fine. In fact, she said that babies born with a veil are said to be "destined for greatness." Unfortunately, my husband missed seeing the magnificent moment, because even though he was speeding on the freeway to get to the hospital, he was 10 minutes late. He missed the entire birth.

Pretty much nothing went according to plan. I didn't plan on giving birth 100 percent naturally, but in retrospect, I'm glad I did, because it made me feel like a warrior afterward. I didn't plan on my baby being born with a veil, but, of course, I'm glad she was, because 1 in every 80,000 babies are , which makes my daughter very lucky.

For any expectant moms out there, especially if this is your first baby, you can have a written, planned, and well thought out birth plan and pack the most perfect hospital bag, but when it comes down to it, you have no idea how it will go. And really, that's the perfect way to start motherhood, since most things won't go according to plan once your baby is born. But the good news is that while things might not be how you thought they'd be, they turn out to be more amazing than you could ever have imagined. Embrace the curveballs, because if nothing else, they make for some amazing stories.

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My Birth Story: Moms Share Their Birth Experiences

What to expect birth stories, jump to your week of pregnancy.


Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, 3 great narrative essay examples + tips for writing.

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General Education


A narrative essay is one of the most intimidating assignments you can be handed at any level of your education. Where you've previously written argumentative essays that make a point or analytic essays that dissect meaning, a narrative essay asks you to write what is effectively a story .

But unlike a simple work of creative fiction, your narrative essay must have a clear and concrete motif —a recurring theme or idea that you’ll explore throughout. Narrative essays are less rigid, more creative in expression, and therefore pretty different from most other essays you’ll be writing.

But not to fear—in this article, we’ll be covering what a narrative essay is, how to write a good one, and also analyzing some personal narrative essay examples to show you what a great one looks like.

What Is a Narrative Essay?

At first glance, a narrative essay might sound like you’re just writing a story. Like the stories you're used to reading, a narrative essay is generally (but not always) chronological, following a clear throughline from beginning to end. Even if the story jumps around in time, all the details will come back to one specific theme, demonstrated through your choice in motifs.

Unlike many creative stories, however, your narrative essay should be based in fact. That doesn’t mean that every detail needs to be pure and untainted by imagination, but rather that you shouldn’t wholly invent the events of your narrative essay. There’s nothing wrong with inventing a person’s words if you can’t remember them exactly, but you shouldn’t say they said something they weren’t even close to saying.

Another big difference between narrative essays and creative fiction—as well as other kinds of essays—is that narrative essays are based on motifs. A motif is a dominant idea or theme, one that you establish before writing the essay. As you’re crafting the narrative, it’ll feed back into your motif to create a comprehensive picture of whatever that motif is.

For example, say you want to write a narrative essay about how your first day in high school helped you establish your identity. You might discuss events like trying to figure out where to sit in the cafeteria, having to describe yourself in five words as an icebreaker in your math class, or being unsure what to do during your lunch break because it’s no longer acceptable to go outside and play during lunch. All of those ideas feed back into the central motif of establishing your identity.

The important thing to remember is that while a narrative essay is typically told chronologically and intended to read like a story, it is not purely for entertainment value. A narrative essay delivers its theme by deliberately weaving the motifs through the events, scenes, and details. While a narrative essay may be entertaining, its primary purpose is to tell a complete story based on a central meaning.

Unlike other essay forms, it is totally okay—even expected—to use first-person narration in narrative essays. If you’re writing a story about yourself, it’s natural to refer to yourself within the essay. It’s also okay to use other perspectives, such as third- or even second-person, but that should only be done if it better serves your motif. Generally speaking, your narrative essay should be in first-person perspective.

Though your motif choices may feel at times like you’re making a point the way you would in an argumentative essay, a narrative essay’s goal is to tell a story, not convince the reader of anything. Your reader should be able to tell what your motif is from reading, but you don’t have to change their mind about anything. If they don’t understand the point you are making, you should consider strengthening the delivery of the events and descriptions that support your motif.

Narrative essays also share some features with analytical essays, in which you derive meaning from a book, film, or other media. But narrative essays work differently—you’re not trying to draw meaning from an existing text, but rather using an event you’ve experienced to convey meaning. In an analytical essay, you examine narrative, whereas in a narrative essay you create narrative.

The structure of a narrative essay is also a bit different than other essays. You’ll generally be getting your point across chronologically as opposed to grouping together specific arguments in paragraphs or sections. To return to the example of an essay discussing your first day of high school and how it impacted the shaping of your identity, it would be weird to put the events out of order, even if not knowing what to do after lunch feels like a stronger idea than choosing where to sit. Instead of organizing to deliver your information based on maximum impact, you’ll be telling your story as it happened, using concrete details to reinforce your theme.


3 Great Narrative Essay Examples

One of the best ways to learn how to write a narrative essay is to look at a great narrative essay sample. Let’s take a look at some truly stellar narrative essay examples and dive into what exactly makes them work so well.

A Ticket to the Fair by David Foster Wallace

Today is Press Day at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, and I’m supposed to be at the fairgrounds by 9:00 A.M. to get my credentials. I imagine credentials to be a small white card in the band of a fedora. I’ve never been considered press before. My real interest in credentials is getting into rides and shows for free. I’m fresh in from the East Coast, for an East Coast magazine. Why exactly they’re interested in the Illinois State Fair remains unclear to me. I suspect that every so often editors at East Coast magazines slap their foreheads and remember that about 90 percent of the United States lies between the coasts, and figure they’ll engage somebody to do pith-helmeted anthropological reporting on something rural and heartlandish. I think they asked me to do this because I grew up here, just a couple hours’ drive from downstate Springfield. I never did go to the state fair, though—I pretty much topped out at the county fair level. Actually, I haven’t been back to Illinois for a long time, and I can’t say I’ve missed it.

Throughout this essay, David Foster Wallace recounts his experience as press at the Illinois State Fair. But it’s clear from this opening that he’s not just reporting on the events exactly as they happened—though that’s also true— but rather making a point about how the East Coast, where he lives and works, thinks about the Midwest.

In his opening paragraph, Wallace states that outright: “Why exactly they’re interested in the Illinois State Fair remains unclear to me. I suspect that every so often editors at East Coast magazines slap their foreheads and remember that about 90 percent of the United States lies between the coasts, and figure they’ll engage somebody to do pith-helmeted anthropological reporting on something rural and heartlandish.”

Not every motif needs to be stated this clearly , but in an essay as long as Wallace’s, particularly since the audience for such a piece may feel similarly and forget that such a large portion of the country exists, it’s important to make that point clear.

But Wallace doesn’t just rest on introducing his motif and telling the events exactly as they occurred from there. It’s clear that he selects events that remind us of that idea of East Coast cynicism , such as when he realizes that the Help Me Grow tent is standing on top of fake grass that is killing the real grass beneath, when he realizes the hypocrisy of craving a corn dog when faced with a real, suffering pig, when he’s upset for his friend even though he’s not the one being sexually harassed, and when he witnesses another East Coast person doing something he wouldn’t dare to do.

Wallace is literally telling the audience exactly what happened, complete with dates and timestamps for when each event occurred. But he’s also choosing those events with a purpose—he doesn’t focus on details that don’t serve his motif. That’s why he discusses the experiences of people, how the smells are unappealing to him, and how all the people he meets, in cowboy hats, overalls, or “black spandex that looks like cheesecake leotards,” feel almost alien to him.

All of these details feed back into the throughline of East Coast thinking that Wallace introduces in the first paragraph. He also refers back to it in the essay’s final paragraph, stating:

At last, an overarching theory blooms inside my head: megalopolitan East Coasters’ summer treats and breaks and literally ‘getaways,’ flights-from—from crowds, noise, heat, dirt, the stress of too many sensory choices….The East Coast existential treat is escape from confines and stimuli—quiet, rustic vistas that hold still, turn inward, turn away. Not so in the rural Midwest. Here you’re pretty much away all the time….Something in a Midwesterner sort of actuates , deep down, at a public event….The real spectacle that draws us here is us.

Throughout this journey, Wallace has tried to demonstrate how the East Coast thinks about the Midwest, ultimately concluding that they are captivated by the Midwest’s less stimuli-filled life, but that the real reason they are interested in events like the Illinois State Fair is that they are, in some ways, a means of looking at the East Coast in a new, estranging way.

The reason this works so well is that Wallace has carefully chosen his examples, outlined his motif and themes in the first paragraph, and eventually circled back to the original motif with a clearer understanding of his original point.

When outlining your own narrative essay, try to do the same. Start with a theme, build upon it with examples, and return to it in the end with an even deeper understanding of the original issue. You don’t need this much space to explore a theme, either—as we’ll see in the next example, a strong narrative essay can also be very short.


Death of a Moth by Virginia Woolf

After a time, tired by his dancing apparently, he settled on the window ledge in the sun, and, the queer spectacle being at an end, I forgot about him. Then, looking up, my eye was caught by him. He was trying to resume his dancing, but seemed either so stiff or so awkward that he could only flutter to the bottom of the window-pane; and when he tried to fly across it he failed. Being intent on other matters I watched these futile attempts for a time without thinking, unconsciously waiting for him to resume his flight, as one waits for a machine, that has stopped momentarily, to start again without considering the reason of its failure. After perhaps a seventh attempt he slipped from the wooden ledge and fell, fluttering his wings, on to his back on the window sill. The helplessness of his attitude roused me. It flashed upon me that he was in difficulties; he could no longer raise himself; his legs struggled vainly. But, as I stretched out a pencil, meaning to help him to right himself, it came over me that the failure and awkwardness were the approach of death. I laid the pencil down again.

In this essay, Virginia Woolf explains her encounter with a dying moth. On surface level, this essay is just a recounting of an afternoon in which she watched a moth die—it’s even established in the title. But there’s more to it than that. Though Woolf does not begin her essay with as clear a motif as Wallace, it’s not hard to pick out the evidence she uses to support her point, which is that the experience of this moth is also the human experience.

In the title, Woolf tells us this essay is about death. But in the first paragraph, she seems to mostly be discussing life—the moth is “content with life,” people are working in the fields, and birds are flying. However, she mentions that it is mid-September and that the fields were being plowed. It’s autumn and it’s time for the harvest; the time of year in which many things die.

In this short essay, she chronicles the experience of watching a moth seemingly embody life, then die. Though this essay is literally about a moth, it’s also about a whole lot more than that. After all, moths aren’t the only things that die—Woolf is also reflecting on her own mortality, as well as the mortality of everything around her.

At its core, the essay discusses the push and pull of life and death, not in a way that’s necessarily sad, but in a way that is accepting of both. Woolf begins by setting up the transitional fall season, often associated with things coming to an end, and raises the ideas of pleasure, vitality, and pity.

At one point, Woolf tries to help the dying moth, but reconsiders, as it would interfere with the natural order of the world. The moth’s death is part of the natural order of the world, just like fall, just like her own eventual death.

All these themes are set up in the beginning and explored throughout the essay’s narrative. Though Woolf doesn’t directly state her theme, she reinforces it by choosing a small, isolated event—watching a moth die—and illustrating her point through details.

With this essay, we can see that you don’t need a big, weird, exciting event to discuss an important meaning. Woolf is able to explore complicated ideas in a short essay by being deliberate about what details she includes, just as you can be in your own essays.


Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

On the twenty-ninth of July, in 1943, my father died. On the same day, a few hours later, his last child was born. Over a month before this, while all our energies were concentrated in waiting for these events, there had been, in Detroit, one of the bloodiest race riots of the century. A few hours after my father’s funeral, while he lay in state in the undertaker’s chapel, a race riot broke out in Harlem. On the morning of the third of August, we drove my father to the graveyard through a wilderness of smashed plate glass.

Like Woolf, Baldwin does not lay out his themes in concrete terms—unlike Wallace, there’s no clear sentence that explains what he’ll be talking about. However, you can see the motifs quite clearly: death, fatherhood, struggle, and race.

Throughout the narrative essay, Baldwin discusses the circumstances of his father’s death, including his complicated relationship with his father. By introducing those motifs in the first paragraph, the reader understands that everything discussed in the essay will come back to those core ideas. When Baldwin talks about his experience with a white teacher taking an interest in him and his father’s resistance to that, he is also talking about race and his father’s death. When he talks about his father’s death, he is also talking about his views on race. When he talks about his encounters with segregation and racism, he is talking, in part, about his father.

Because his father was a hard, uncompromising man, Baldwin struggles to reconcile the knowledge that his father was right about many things with his desire to not let that hardness consume him, as well.

Baldwin doesn’t explicitly state any of this, but his writing so often touches on the same motifs that it becomes clear he wants us to think about all these ideas in conversation with one another.

At the end of the essay, Baldwin makes it more clear:

This fight begins, however, in the heart and it had now been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair. This intimation made my heart heavy and, now that my father was irrecoverable, I wished that he had been beside me so that I could have searched his face for the answers which only the future would give me now.

Here, Baldwin ties together the themes and motifs into one clear statement: that he must continue to fight and recognize injustice, especially racial injustice, just as his father did. But unlike his father, he must do it beginning with himself—he must not let himself be closed off to the world as his father was. And yet, he still wishes he had his father for guidance, even as he establishes that he hopes to be a different man than his father.

In this essay, Baldwin loads the front of the essay with his motifs, and, through his narrative, weaves them together into a theme. In the end, he comes to a conclusion that connects all of those things together and leaves the reader with a lasting impression of completion—though the elements may have been initially disparate, in the end everything makes sense.

You can replicate this tactic of introducing seemingly unattached ideas and weaving them together in your own essays. By introducing those motifs, developing them throughout, and bringing them together in the end, you can demonstrate to your reader how all of them are related. However, it’s especially important to be sure that your motifs and clear and consistent throughout your essay so that the conclusion feels earned and consistent—if not, readers may feel mislead.

5 Key Tips for Writing Narrative Essays

Narrative essays can be a lot of fun to write since they’re so heavily based on creativity. But that can also feel intimidating—sometimes it’s easier to have strict guidelines than to have to make it all up yourself. Here are a few tips to keep your narrative essay feeling strong and fresh.

Develop Strong Motifs

Motifs are the foundation of a narrative essay . What are you trying to say? How can you say that using specific symbols or events? Those are your motifs.

In the same way that an argumentative essay’s body should support its thesis, the body of your narrative essay should include motifs that support your theme.

Try to avoid cliches, as these will feel tired to your readers. Instead of roses to symbolize love, try succulents. Instead of the ocean representing some vast, unknowable truth, try the depths of your brother’s bedroom. Keep your language and motifs fresh and your essay will be even stronger!

Use First-Person Perspective

In many essays, you’re expected to remove yourself so that your points stand on their own. Not so in a narrative essay—in this case, you want to make use of your own perspective.

Sometimes a different perspective can make your point even stronger. If you want someone to identify with your point of view, it may be tempting to choose a second-person perspective. However, be sure you really understand the function of second-person; it’s very easy to put a reader off if the narration isn’t expertly deployed.

If you want a little bit of distance, third-person perspective may be okay. But be careful—too much distance and your reader may feel like the narrative lacks truth.

That’s why first-person perspective is the standard. It keeps you, the writer, close to the narrative, reminding the reader that it really happened. And because you really know what happened and how, you’re free to inject your own opinion into the story without it detracting from your point, as it would in a different type of essay.

Stick to the Truth

Your essay should be true. However, this is a creative essay, and it’s okay to embellish a little. Rarely in life do we experience anything with a clear, concrete meaning the way somebody in a book might. If you flub the details a little, it’s okay—just don’t make them up entirely.

Also, nobody expects you to perfectly recall details that may have happened years ago. You may have to reconstruct dialog from your memory and your imagination. That’s okay, again, as long as you aren’t making it up entirely and assigning made-up statements to somebody.

Dialog is a powerful tool. A good conversation can add flavor and interest to a story, as we saw demonstrated in David Foster Wallace’s essay. As previously mentioned, it’s okay to flub it a little, especially because you’re likely writing about an experience you had without knowing that you’d be writing about it later.

However, don’t rely too much on it. Your narrative essay shouldn’t be told through people explaining things to one another; the motif comes through in the details. Dialog can be one of those details, but it shouldn’t be the only one.

Use Sensory Descriptions

Because a narrative essay is a story, you can use sensory details to make your writing more interesting. If you’re describing a particular experience, you can go into detail about things like taste, smell, and hearing in a way that you probably wouldn’t do in any other essay style.

These details can tie into your overall motifs and further your point. Woolf describes in great detail what she sees while watching the moth, giving us the sense that we, too, are watching the moth. In Wallace’s essay, he discusses the sights, sounds, and smells of the Illinois State Fair to help emphasize his point about its strangeness. And in Baldwin’s essay, he describes shattered glass as a “wilderness,” and uses the feelings of his body to describe his mental state.

All these descriptions anchor us not only in the story, but in the motifs and themes as well. One of the tools of a writer is making the reader feel as you felt, and sensory details help you achieve that.

What’s Next?

Looking to brush up on your essay-writing capabilities before the ACT? This guide to ACT English will walk you through some of the best strategies and practice questions to get you prepared!

Part of practicing for the ACT is ensuring your word choice and diction are on point. Check out this guide to some of the most common errors on the ACT English section to be sure that you're not making these common mistakes!

A solid understanding of English principles will help you make an effective point in a narrative essay, and you can get that understanding through taking a rigorous assortment of high school English classes !

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Melissa Brinks graduated from the University of Washington in 2014 with a Bachelor's in English with a creative writing emphasis. She has spent several years tutoring K-12 students in many subjects, including in SAT prep, to help them prepare for their college education.

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Descriptive Narrative Essay: Giving Birth

At the moment when I got pregnant, I could not imagine that I would make a courageous step to give birth to someone, and more so, to give birth to someone naturally without any external interference. Throughout my pregnancy, I was reading a lot of accounts of women who have decided to give birth to their babies naturally. Their experiences immensely inspired me, and I became reassured that delivering without any help and assistance from the medication would be an honor for me as a mother. One shall be aware that giving birth naturally entails the motherly motivation. For me, it was particularly important to be fully in control of my body at the moment when the life of my child will begin. I was so convinced that such motivation would result in the successful process of the birth-giving, and the process went really smooth. However, once I found myself in the hospital, I felt the fear throughout my body. In every part of myself, I was afraid that something might be wrong and I may lose control over the process, and ultimately the delivery will not be safe for my baby.

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Because of the fear, the hospital staff had to interfere in the process of birth giving. The midwives were continually calming me down as I was shivering. Without measuring my blood pressure, I could feel that it went beyond the norm. Instead of thinking of the health of my baby, I was concentrating on the amount of blood, the process of something I wasn’t sure I would be able to control. Even though I thought I was prepared for the process of giving birth, in the hospital room, I realized that it was something a mother-to-be cannot prepare for.

Once the experience of giving birth has started, it has lasted for about 11 hours in total. The midwives were constantly present next to me and were working on stabilizing my emotional experiences. As I was feeling that the baby was actually coming, the fear was fading away. The amount of time spent in the hospital room felt different. After leaving the room, I would not believe that the experience has lasted for 10 hours. I realized that the fear also influenced by the amount of time spent in the hospital room during the process of giving birth to a baby, too.

Lying for 10 hours and giving birth was not as easy as one may think. Once the fear was becoming stronger, I was feeling nausea. During labor, I was trying to portray the images of the baby that was coming from my body but was hearing the cries in my head. The stress and the fear combined was hard to challenge. The only two factors that drove in the process of giving birth naturally was the pride of managing to overcome one of the most massive challenges for the motherhood as well as the motivation for becoming a hero to myself.

In the end, I managed to overcome the fear. After 10 hours of the hardworking labor, my child was put on my breast, and the feeling of pride was omnipresent throughout my body. Finally, in a second I was able to listen to a heartbeat of my body as well as to listen to my body. I was feeling myself a very proud mother who succeeded in overcoming one of the greatest personal challenges one could select. The congratulations coming from the midwives cheered me up even more, and I could finally feel all the pride I had in me. This is why, the experience was wonderful, as it taught me how to overcome my fears.

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Narrative Essay Writing

Personal Narrative Essay

Cathy A.

Personal Narrative Essay - Easy Guide & Examples

16 min read

Published on: Apr 18, 2020

Last updated on: Mar 24, 2024

personal narrative essay

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A personal narrative essay can be a fun way to share your life story with friends and family. However, most students have no idea how to write a personal narrative essay. 

This can be a challenge. On top of that, it's one of the most common assignments in school.

Is this something that you are also dealing with? Fortunately, you don't have to worry anymore! We are here to simplify the process for you.

This guide will walk you through the process of writing a personal narrative essay step by step. Plus, you can find plenty of examples here to help you get started and avoid common writing mistakes. 

So what are you waiting for, take a step forward to make your essay shine!

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Personal Narrative Essay Definition

What is a Personal Narrative Essay? 

A personal narrative essay is also referred to as short storytelling. It depends on the writer's type of story they want to tell the readers. This type of essay can be composed of the personal experience of the writer. 

A personal narrative essay is usually written in the first person participle. It helps to depict a clear narrative that’s focused on a specific moment.

Usually, high school students are usually assigned to write such essays. Writing these essays helps them to enhance creative writing skills. Also, they help to provide insight into a student’s personal life. 

To write a personal narrative essay, the writer specifies a plot around which the entire essay revolves. Moreover, the plot should also discuss the characters that have played some part in the story.

Sample Personal Narrative Essay (PDF)

How to Start a Personal Narrative Essay?  

The personal narrative essay requires a balance between objectivity and subjectivity. To write about an event or situation with significance, you must first identify what's important to share with the readers.

As with other types of writing - there are some guidelines you need to follow some guidelines. These are;

1. Choose the Right Topic 

A good topic can not just make your essay look good, but also it will make the writing process much easier. Since personal narrative essays are written on personal experiences and thoughts, make sure you choose your most interesting experience. 

Keep in mind that the topic you choose matches the intended audience. It is the reader who decides the scope and success of your essay.

2. Choose a Theme 

You can also choose a theme for your essay. This will help you focus on what you want to say. You can use your personal experiences to explore the theme in depth.  For example, if you choose the theme of love, you could talk about your experience of love with your sister(s).  Alternatively, you can start writing out the story and see if any ideas might relate to a bigger theme. When you are writing, pay attention to any ideas that keep coming up. See if they might be related to a bigger topic.

3. Create a Thesis Statement 

The thesis statement is the most important sentence and tells the reader what your essay will be about.  

In a personal narrative essay, the thesis statement can briefly explore the story's events. Or it can tell the reader about the moral or lesson learned through personal experience. The thesis statement can also present the main theme of the essay. 

For example, if you are writing an essay about your personal experience as a refugee. You may have a thesis statement that presents the theme of freedom.

Check out more thesis statement examples to learn how to write one!

4. Create an Outline 

Once you have your topic, it is time that you create an outline for your essay. The essay outline is an essential element of an essay. It keeps the whole composition in an organized order. 

Also, it helps the reader through the essay. With the help of an outline, a writer can provide logic for the essay. 

Personal Narrative Essay Outline

Being a student, you must know how important an outline is for an essay. It provides an organization with the whole content.

To create an outline for a personal narrative essay, you need to follow the following traditional method.


These three major elements of a  narrative essay  are further elaborated down below.

The introduction is the most important part of essay writing. It is the first impression on the reader; by reading this part, the reader decides the quality of the essay. This part should be the most attention-grabbing part. 

It should have an attention-grabbing hook and some background information about the topic. Moreover, it should include the thesis statement, which explains the main idea of your essay.

Keep in mind that the essay introduction should always end with a transition sentence. This will make a logical connection with the rest of the essay. 

Personal Narrative Introduction Example

Body Paragraphs 

After the introduction, the body paragraphs are written. These paragraphs help you to explain the key elements of your personal narrative essay. 

In a standard personal narrative essay, there are usually three body paragraphs. These paragraphs help the writer to describe the subject of the essay in all possible aspects. 

With the help of these paragraphs, the writer describes their point of view to the readers. To support the essay, the time and place of the event happening are also mentioned. Moreover, these paragraphs have all the information about the characters. 

Keep in mind that a body starts with a topic sentence . This sentence is a kind of introductory sentence for that particular paragraph.

Another important thing you need to keep in mind is the order in which you will present the details. Make sure that you use chronological order for this purpose. 

Personal Narrative Body Example

In conclusion, you need to provide the climax of the story. 

In this section of a personal narrative essay, you should wrap up the whole story. Do it in such a way that you provide a summary of the entire essay. 

Your conclusion should be just as impactful as your introduction. End with a memorable sentence or thought that leaves the reader with a lasting impression. You can summarize the main points of your essay or reflect on the significance of the experience in your life.

Make sure that you do not add any new points in this part. It will not give the reader a sense of accomplishment and will leave them in confusion. 

Personal Narrative Conclusion Example

How to Write a Personal Narrative Essay

A personal narrative essay is considered very good when it is expressive, and the reader enjoys your personal narrative. The key to writing an amazing personal narrative is to use sensory details as much as possible.

An excellent narrative essay doesn't tell what happened. Instead, it shows what happened precisely and how you have felt at that moment.

Here is how you can write a personal narrative essay:

  • Start With a Good Hook 

For any type of essay , a hook statement can be a game-changer. But, particularly for a personal narrative essay, hook sentences are very important. 

Usually, the introduction of the essay starts with this sentence. You may use a famous quotation, verse, or an interesting fact for this purpose. This sentence helps to attain the reader’s attention and persuade the reader to read the entire essay. 

  • Vivid Description 

For a narrative essay, it is a must to be vivid enough to let the reader imagine the whole scene. This is why it is necessary that the writer uses as much descriptive language as possible. 

For instance, if you are writing about a visit to the beach, you can describe how the sun felt on your face. On top of that, making use of strong verbs and adjectives will also help to provide an engaging experience for readers.  

  • Use Transition Words 

For any essay, be it an argumentative essay , descriptive essay , or personal narrative essay. It is very important to have some transition sentences and words. These transition words help to make a logical connection in all parts of the essay. 

In other words, the transition words help to make links between the storyline. You may use transition words like this, however, whereas, therefore, moreover, etc.

  • Add Emotions 

The purpose of a personal narrative essay is to show the reader what and how you have felt. Hence don't forget to add the emotions, as you have to make the reader know about the feelings. 

Describe all of the emotions and feelings using very descriptive words. 

  • Be Consistent 

Consistency is the key to writing an essay in a professional way. Make sure that you don't get distracted by any irrelevant details. 

Stay focused on one single point, and add details related to your specific idea.  Make sure that you inter-link all the events of the story in a regular manner. This will help the reader to relate all the events. Also, use first-person impressions as you are writing a personal narrative. 

You also want to show the reader that you are telling your own story. Make sure that you follow the same participle in the entire essay. 

  • Prove the Significance of Your Experience 

You know that behind every event, there is a reason. Similarly, let your readers know the reason behind your essay and its significance. 

Also, mention that the story you just told was important to share. 

As it is a personal narrative, you don't have to provide evidence to prove the significance of your story. Rather, you have to convey a broader message through your story. 

  • Use Dialogue

Dialogue is an excellent way to bring life to your story and make it more engaging. It can reveal the character’s personalities and add a touch of realism to the essay. 

When you use dialogue, make sure to punctuate it correctly and indicate who is speaking.

  • Show, Don't Tell

When writing a personal narrative essay, avoid summarizing events and simply telling the story. Instead, use sensory details to help the reader experience the story with you. 

Describe what you saw, heard, felt, tasted, and smelled to bring the story to life.

  • Reflect on the Experience

Reflection is an important part of any personal narrative essay. It is an opportunity for you to reflect on the experience you are writing about and what it means to you. Take the time to think about what you learned from the experience and how it has shaped you as a person.

Once you are done with writing your personal narrative essay. It's time that you put a little effort into making it error-free. Proofread the essay more than once and look for minor spelling mistakes and other grammatical mistakes. 

This will ensure that you have written an essay like a pro. You can do this yourself or you may ask a friend to do it for you.

To understand better how to write a personal narrative essay, take a few moments to watch the video below!

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Free Personal Narrative Essay Examples

Examples help you to understand things better; here are a few well-written  narrative essay examples . Read them thoroughly and use them as a guide to writing a good essay yourself.

Personal Narrative Essay 750 words

Personal narrative essays can be long or short. It depends on the writer how they want to elaborate things.

750 Words Personal Narrative Essay (PDF)

Personal Narrative Essay Examples for High School Students

Personal narrative essays are often assigned to high school students. If you are a high school student and looking for some good examples, you are exactly where you should be.

Best Summer Memory of My Childhood (PDF)

Near-Death Experience (PDF)

Personal Narrative Essay Examples for College Students

Being a college student, you will often get to write personal narrative essays. Here are a few examples of well-written personal narrative essays to guide college students.

Climbing a Mountain (PDF)

My First Job (PDF)

Want to get a better understanding? Dive into the wide collection of our narrative essay examples !

Personal Narrative Essay Topics

It is important to choose a good topic before you start writing. Here are some interesting  narrative essay topics  you can choose from for your essay.

  • My worst childhood memory
  • My favorite summer activities during vacation.
  • The first time I had a serious argument with my best friend
  • The first time someone broke my heart.
  • Things I could tell myself.
  • How I balance my family life and my professional life.
  • The most important rule in life
  • Teachers who inspired me in my college.
  • Why I love to write a diary
  • My favorite New York Times Article.
  • My favorite movie.
  • Personal advice for the youth of today.
  • How I overcame my stage fear.
  • The toughest decision I have ever made.
  • What I regret most

Need some inspiration to craft your essay? Our expansive list of narrative essay topics will provide you with plenty of ideas!

Personal Narrative Essay Writing Tips

You need to follow a few things in order to start your personal narrative essay in a proper way. Those significant things are as follows:

  • Think of a memorable event, an unforgettable experience, or any that you want to tell the readers.
  • Plan your narrative essay. Make yourself clear on the order in which you want to mention all the details.
  • Start your personal essay with a hook sentence. This will help you to grab the attention of the readers.
  • Use vivid language so that the reader can imagine the whole scene in mind. Describe the actions, mood, theme, and overall plot.
  • Make sure that you use descriptive language.
  • Use proper sentence structure.

In conclusion,

writing a personal narrative essay can be daunting for many students.

So, step into the world of professional essay writing with our specialized narrative essay writing service . We're committed to crafting compelling stories that capture and engage.

For added convenience and innovation, don't forget to check out our essay writer online , an AI tool designed to refine and elevate your writing experience. Join us today and transform your writing journey!

Cathy A. (Literature, Marketing)

For more than five years now, Cathy has been one of our most hardworking authors on the platform. With a Masters degree in mass communication, she knows the ins and outs of professional writing. Clients often leave her glowing reviews for being an amazing writer who takes her work very seriously.

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How to Write a Personal Narrative like a Pro (With Examples)

Last Updated: December 12, 2023 Fact Checked

Template and Sample Narrative

  • Brainstorming

This article was co-authored by Grant Faulkner, MA . Grant Faulkner is the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and the co-founder of 100 Word Story, a literary magazine. Grant has published two books on writing and has been published in The New York Times and Writer’s Digest. He co-hosts Write-minded, a weekly podcast on writing and publishing, and has a M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University.  There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 864,174 times.

Personal narratives focus on a particular real life event that was pivotal or important for the writer. You may have to write a personal narrative as part of a college application or as an assignment for a class. To write a strong personal narrative, start by coming up with an engaging idea. Then, write the narrative with an opening hook and a detailed, organized structure. Always review and revise the personal narrative before handing it in so it is at its best.

Things You Should Know

  • Center your narrative around an important moment in your life. For example, you might write about a time you had to make a hard decision or deal with a conflict.
  • Move chronologically through the events you’re discussing. This will make your narrative easy to follow and draw your reader in.
  • Finish with a moral takeaway or a life lesson. What did you learn from these events, and why is it important? How did they shape you as a person?

personal narrative essay giving birth

Brainstorming Ideas for the Narrative

Step 1 Focus on a memorable event or moment in your life.

  • For example, you may write about your struggles with body image in high school and how you overcame them in adulthood. Or you may write about your disastrous 15th birthday party and how it affected your relationship with your mother.

Step 2 Expand on an important conflict in your life.

  • For example, you write a personal narrative about your complicated relationship with your birth mother. Or you may write about a conflict you have with a sport you play or a club you are a part of.

Step 3 Think about a particular theme or idea.

  • For example, you may explore a theme like poverty by writing about your family’s struggle with money and finances. You may write about having to defer college applications to work at your parent’s business to make ends meet for your family.

Step 4 Read examples of personal narrative.

  • The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard
  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
  • The Lives section of The New York Times

Writing the Personal Narrative

Step 1 Start with a hook.

  • For example, the first line in the personal narrative by Tony Gervino is attention grabbing: “I was 6 when my brother John leaned across the kitchen table and casually whispered that he had killed Santa Claus.” [5] X Research source

Step 2 Set the scene with action.

  • For example, in Tony Gervino’s essay, he sets the scene by providing setting, character, and narrative voice: “It was July 1973, we were living in Scarsdale, N.Y., and he was four years older than I was, although that seemed like decades.”

Step 3 Move chronologically through the events.

  • For example, you may start with an event in childhood with your older sister and then move forward in time to the present day, focusing on you and your older sister as adults.

Step 4 Use sensory detail and description.

  • For example, you may describe the feeling of your mother’s famous lemon cake as “rich and zesty, with a special ingredient that to this day, I cannot identify.”

Step 5 Finish with a moral or takeaway.

  • For example, you may end a personal narrative about your complicated relationship with your troubled sister by ending on a recent memory where you both enjoyed each other’s company. You may leave the reader with a lesson you have learned about loving someone, even with all their messiness and baggage.

Polishing the Personal Narrative

Step 1 Read the narrative out loud.

  • You can also try reading the narrative out loud to someone else so they can hear how it sounds. This can then make it easier for them to give you feedback.

Step 2 Show the narrative to others.

  • Be willing to accept feedback from others. Be open to constructive criticism as it will likely strengthen the narrative.

Step 3 Revise the narrative for clarity and length.

Community Q&A

Community Answer

You Might Also Like

Write a Personal Essay

  • How to Write a Narrative Essay
  • How to Write a Journal Entry
  • How to Write an Epistolary Narrative
  • How to Write an Autobiography
  • ↑ https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/personal-narrative-examples
  • ↑ https://www.byrdseed.com/writing-better-personal-narratives/
  • ↑ https://grammar.yourdictionary.com/grammar-rules-and-tips/tips-for-writing-a-personal-narrative-essay.html
  • ↑ https://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/17/magazine/lives-a-rats-tale.html
  • ↑ https://open.lib.umn.edu/writingforsuccess/chapter/10-1-narration/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/reading-aloud/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/revising-drafts/

About This Article

Grant Faulkner, MA

To write a personal narrative, start by choosing a memorable moment, event, or conflict in your life that you want to write about. Then, use your personal narrative to describe your story, going chronologically through the events. Try to use a lot of sensory detail, like how things smelled, sounded, felt, and looked, so your readers can picture everything you're describing. At the end of your narrative, include a lesson you learned or something you took away from the experience. To learn how to brainstorm ideas for your personal narrative, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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10 Personal Narrative Examples to Inspire Your Writing

Personal narratives are short pieces of creative nonfiction that recount a story from someone’s own experiences. They can be a memoir, a thinkpiece, or even a polemic — so long as the piece is grounded in the writer's beliefs and experiences, it can be considered a personal narrative.

Despite the nonfiction element, there’s no single way to approach this topic, and you can be as creative as you would be writing fiction. To inspire your writing and reveal the sheer diversity of this type of essay, here are ten great examples personal narratives from recent years: 

1. “Only Disconnect” by Gary Shteyngart

personal narrative essay giving birth

Personal narratives don’t have to be long to be effective, as this thousand-word gem from the NYT book review proves. Published in 2010, just as smartphones were becoming a ubiquitous part of modern life, this piece echoes many of our fears surrounding technology and how it often distances us from reality.

In this narrative, Shteyngart navigates Manhattan using his new iPhone—or more accurately, is led by his iPhone, completely oblivious to the world around him. He’s completely lost to the magical happenstance of the city as he “follow[s] the arrow taco-ward”. But once he leaves for the country, and abandons the convenience of a cell phone connection, the real world comes rushing back in and he remembers what he’s been missing out on. 

The downfalls of technology is hardly a new topic, but Shteyngart’s story remains evergreen because of how our culture has only spiraled further down the rabbit hole of technology addiction in the intervening years.

What can you learn from this piece?

Just because a piece of writing is technically nonfiction, that doesn’t mean that the narrative needs to be literal. Shteyngart imagines a Manhattan that physically changes around him when he’s using his iPhone, becoming an almost unrecognizable world. From this, we can see how a certain amount of dramatization can increase the impact of your message—even if that wasn’t exactly the way something happened. 



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2. “Why I Hate Mother's Day” by Anne Lamott

The author of the classic writing text Bird by Bird digs into her views on motherhood in this piece from Salon. At once a personal narrative and a cultural commentary, Lamott explores the harmful effects that Mother’s Day may have on society —how its blind reverence to the concept of motherhood erases women’s agency and freedom to be flawed human beings. 

Lamott points out that not all mothers are good, not everyone has a living mother to celebrate, and some mothers have lost their children, so have no one to celebrate with them. More importantly, she notes how this Hallmark holiday erases all the people who helped raise a woman, a long chain of mothers and fathers, friends and found family, who enable her to become a mother. While it isn’t anchored to a single story or event (like many classic personal narratives), Lamott’s exploration of her opinions creates a story about a culture that puts mothers on an impossible pedestal. 

In a personal narrative essay, lived experience can be almost as valid as peer-reviewed research—so long as you avoid making unfounded assumptions. While some might point out that this is merely an opinion piece, Lamott cannily starts the essay by grounding it in the personal, revealing how she did not raise her son to celebrate Mother’s Day. This detail, however small, invites the reader into her private life and frames this essay as a story about her —and not just an exercise in being contrary.

3. “The Crane Wife” by CJ Hauser 

Days after breaking off her engagement with her fiance, CJ Hauser joins a scientific expedition on the Texas coast r esearching whooping cranes . In this new environment, she reflects on the toxic relationship she left and how she found herself in this situation. She pulls together many seemingly disparate threads, using the expedition and the Japanese myth of the crane wife as a metaphor for her struggles. 

Hauser’s interactions with the other volunteer researchers expand the scope of the narrative from her own mind, reminding her of the compassion she lacked in her relationship. In her attempts to make herself smaller, less needy, to please her fiance, she lost sight of herself and almost signed up to live someone else’s life, but among the whooping cranes of Texas, she takes the first step in reconnecting with herself.

With short personal narratives, there isn’t as much room to develop characters as you might have in a memoir so the details you do provide need to be clear and specific. Each of the volunteer researchers on Hauser’s expedition are distinct and recognizable though Hauser is economical in her descriptions. 

For example, Hauser describes one researcher as “an eighty-four-year-old bachelor from Minnesota. He could not do most of the physical activities required by the trip, but had been on ninety-five Earthwatch expeditions, including this one once before. Warren liked birds okay. What Warren really loved was cocktail hour.” 

In a few sentences, we get a clear picture of Warren's fun-loving, gregarious personality and how he fits in with the rest of the group.


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4. “The Trash Heap Has Spoken” by Carmen Maria Machado

The films and TV shows of the 80s and 90s—cultural touchstones that practically raised a generation—hardly ever featured larger women on screen. And if they did, it was either as a villain or a literal trash heap. Carmen Maria Machado grew up watching these cartoons, and the absence of fat women didn’t faze her. Not until puberty hit and she went from a skinny kid to a fuller-figured teen. Suddenly uncomfortable in her skin, she struggled to find any positive representation in her favorite media.

As she gets older and more comfortable in her own body, Machado finds inspiration in Marjory the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock and Ursula, everyone’s favorite sea witch from The Little Mermaid —characters with endless power in the unapologetic ways they inhabit their bodies. As Machado considers her own body through the years, it’s these characters she returns to as she faces society’s unkind, dismissive attitudes towards fat women.

Stories shape the world, even if they’re fictional. Some writers strive for realism, reflecting the world back on itself in all its ugliness, but Carmen Maria Machado makes a different point. There is power in being imaginative and writing the world as it could be, imagining something bigger, better, and more beautiful. So, write the story you want to see, change the narrative, look at it sideways, and show your readers how the world could look. 

5. “Am I Disabled?” by Joanne Limburg 

The titular question frames the narrative of Joanne Limburg’s essay as she considers the implications of disclosing her autism. What to some might seem a mundane occurrence—ticking ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘prefer not to say’ on a bureaucratic form—elicits both philosophical and practical questions for Limburg about what it means to be disabled and how disability is viewed by the majority of society. 

Is the labor of disclosing her autism worth the insensitive questions she has to answer? What definition are people seeking, exactly? Will anyone believe her if she says yes? As she dissects the question of what disability is, she explores the very real personal effects this has on her life and those of other disabled people. 

Limburg’s essay is written in a style known as the hermit crab essay , when an author uses an existing document form to contain their story. You can format your writing as a recipe, a job application, a resume, an email, or a to-do list – the possibilities are as endless as your creativity. The format you choose is important, though. It should connect in some way to the story you’re telling and add something to the reader’s experience as well as your overall theme. 



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6. “Living Like Weasels” by Annie Dillard

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While out on a walk in the woods behind her house, Annie Dillard encounters a wild weasel. In the short moment when they make eye contact, Dillard takes an imaginary journey through the weasel’s mind and wonders if the weasel’s approach to life is better than her own. 

The weasel, as Dillard sees it, is a wild creature with jaws so powerful that when it clamps on to something, it won’t let go, even into death. Necessity drives it to be like this, and humanity, obsessed with choice, might think this kind of life is limiting, but the writer believes otherwise. The weasel’s necessity is the ultimate freedom, as long as you can find the right sort, the kind that will have you holding on for dear life and refusing to let go. 

Make yourself the National Geographic explorer of your backyard or neighborhood and see what you can learn about yourself from what you discover. Annie Dillard, queen of the natural personal essay, discovers a lot about herself and her beliefs when meeting a weasel.

What insight can you glean from a blade of grass, for example? Does it remind you that despite how similar people might be, we are all unique? Do the flights of migrating birds give you perspective on the changes in your own life? Nature is a potent and never-ending spring of inspiration if you only think to look. 


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7. “Love In Our Seventies” by Ellery Akers

“ And sometimes, when I lift the gray hair at the back of your neck and kiss your shoulder, I think, This is it.”

In under 400 words, poet Ellery Akers captures the joy she has found in discovering romance as a 75-year-old . The language is romantic, but her imagery is far from saccharine as she describes their daily life and the various states in which they’ve seen each other: in their pajamas, after cataract surgeries, while meditating. In each singular moment, Akers sees something she loves, underscoring an oft-forgotten truth. Love is most potent in its smallest gestures.  

Personal narrative isn’t a defined genre with rigid rules, so your essay doesn’t have to be an essay. It can be a poem, as Akers’ is. The limitations of this form can lead to greater creativity as you’re trying to find a short yet evocative way to tell a story. It allows you to focus deeply on the emotions behind an idea and create an intimate connection with your reader. 

8. “What a Black Woman Wishes Her Adoptive White Parents Knew” by Mariama Lockington

personal narrative essay giving birth

Mariama Lockington was adopted by her white parents in the early 80s, long before it was “trendy” for white people to adopt black children. Starting with a family photograph, the writer explores her complex feelings about her upbringing , the many ways her parents ignored her race for their own comfort, and how she came to feel like an outsider in her own home. In describing her childhood snapshots, she takes the reader from infancy to adulthood as she navigates trying to live as a black woman in a white family. 

Lockington takes us on a journey through her life through a series of vignettes. These small, important moments serve as a framing device, intertwining to create a larger narrative about race, family, and belonging. 

With this framing device, it’s easy to imagine Lockington poring over a photo album, each picture conjuring a different memory and infusing her story with equal parts sadness, regret, and nostalgia. You can create a similar effect by separating your narrative into different songs to create an album or episodes in a TV show. A unique structure can add an extra layer to your narrative and enhance the overall story.

9. “Drinking Chai to Savannah” by Anjali Enjeti

On a trip to Savannah with her friends, Anjali Enjeti is reminded of a racist incident she experienced as a teenager . The memory is prompted by her discomfort of traveling in Georgia as a South Asian woman and her friends’ seeming obliviousness to how others view them. As she recalls the tense and traumatic encounter she had in line at a Wendy’s and the worry she experiences in Savannah, Enjeti reflects on her understanding of otherness and race in America. 

Enjeti paints the scene in Wendy’s with a deft hand. Using descriptive language, she invokes the five senses to capture the stress and fear she felt when the men in line behind her were hurling racist sentiments. 

She writes, “He moves closer. His shadow eclipses mine. His hot, tobacco-tinged breath seeps over the collar of my dress.” The strong, evocative language she uses brings the reader into the scene and has them experience the same anxiety she does, understanding why this incident deeply impacted her. 

10. “Siri Tells A Joke” by Debra Gwartney

One day, Debra Gwartney asks Siri—her iPhone’s digital assistant—to tell her a joke. In reply, Siri recites a joke with a familiar setup about three men stuck on a desert island. When the punchline comes, Gwartney reacts not with laughter, but with a memory of her husband , who had died less than six months prior.

In a short period, Gwartney goes through a series of losses—first, her house and her husband’s writing archives to a wildfire, and only a month after, her husband. As she reflects on death and the grief of those left behind in the wake of it, she recounts the months leading up to her husband’s passing and the interminable stretch after as she tries to find a way to live without him even as she longs for him. 

A joke about three men on a deserted island seems like an odd setup for an essay about grief. However, Gwartney uses it to great effect, coming back to it later in the story and giving it greater meaning. By the end of her piece, she recontextualizes the joke, the original punchline suddenly becoming deeply sad. In taking something seemingly unrelated and calling back to it later, the essay’s message about grief and love becomes even more powerful.

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Thomas Edison: the Birth of an Inventive Genius

This essay about Thomas Edison highlights his life as a testament to unrelenting curiosity and perseverance. Born in 1847, Edison overcame numerous challenges, including a hearing impairment, to become a prolific inventor with over a thousand patents. His early innovations in telegraphy and his groundbreaking inventions, such as the phonograph and electric lighting, demonstrate his commitment to practical applications. Edison’s legacy endures through his contributions to modern technology, inspiring future generations with his example of determination and ingenuity.

How it works

In the chronicles of human innovation, few figures are as luminous as Thomas Edison. Born on February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio, Edison’s life story stands as a testament to the power of unrelenting curiosity, boundless creativity, and steadfast perseverance. His legacy, defined by over a thousand patents and innumerable innovations, has left an indelible imprint on modern civilization. Yet, behind the towering persona of the “Wizard of Menlo Park” lies a narrative of humble beginnings and unwavering determination, revealing the rise of a prolific inventor.

Edison’s early life was far from promising. As the youngest of seven children in a modest middle-class family, he encountered numerous challenges from the start. His difficulties with formal education, exacerbated by a hearing impairment that persisted throughout his life, cast a shadow over his academic prospects. However, where others saw obstacles, Edison perceived opportunities. It was during these formative years that the seeds of his inventive spirit were sown, nurtured by an insatiable curiosity about the world around him.

At just twelve years old, Edison ventured into the world of innovation, establishing a rudimentary chemistry lab in the basement of his family home. Driven by an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and a relentless urge to experiment, he spent countless hours in his makeshift laboratory, tinkering with chemicals and conducting rudimentary experiments. It was here, amidst the bubbling beakers and crackling wires, that Edison’s passion for invention began to flourish.

Despite his limited formal education, Edison had a natural talent for problem-solving and an intuitive grasp of scientific principles. His insatiable curiosity led him to devour books on a wide array of subjects, from physics to telegraphy, from chemistry to mechanics. With each new discovery, he found fresh inspiration for his experiments, pushing the boundaries of his understanding and laying the foundation for his future innovations.

Edison’s move to the bustling metropolis of New York City marked the beginning of a new chapter in his life. At sixteen, he secured a job as a telegraph operator, a role that would prove pivotal. Immersed in the fast-paced world of telecommunications, Edison honed his skills as an inventor, making numerous improvements to existing telegraph equipment. His ability to identify inefficiencies and devise elegant solutions quickly garnered the attention of his superiors, establishing his reputation as a promising young innovator.

Buoyed by his early successes, Edison set his sights on more ambitious goals. In 1869, at the age of twenty-two, he established his first laboratory in Newark, New Jersey, marking the beginning of his illustrious career as an independent inventor. It was here that he laid the groundwork for some of his most groundbreaking inventions, including the quadruplex telegraph, which revolutionized long-distance communication, and the phonograph, which forever altered the landscape of music and entertainment.

Edison’s most enduring legacy, however, lies in his relentless pursuit of practical applications for his inventions. Unlike many of his contemporaries, who were content to pursue knowledge for its own sake, Edison was driven by a singular vision: to improve the lives of ordinary people through innovation. Whether through the development of electric lighting, the creation of motion pictures, or the refinement of the electric power system, Edison’s inventions were always guided by a commitment to utility and accessibility.

Of course, Edison’s path to success was strewn with setbacks and failures, each serving as a valuable lesson in resilience and perseverance. From the countless hours spent in his laboratory to the substantial financial investments in his experiments, Edison poured every ounce of his being into his work, never wavering in his pursuit of progress. As he famously remarked, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

In the end, Edison’s legacy transcends the sum of his inventions. More than just an inventor, he was a visionary whose impact on the world endures to this day. From the light bulbs that brighten our homes to the movies that transport us to distant worlds, Edison’s innovations continue to shape human history, inspiring future generations to dream big and reach for the stars.

As we reflect on the life and legacy of Thomas Edison, let us remember not only his numerous achievements but also the spirit of innovation and perseverance that drove him forward. In a world beset by challenges and uncertainties, Edison’s example serves as a beacon of hope, reminding us that with determination and ingenuity, anything is possible. Indeed, the birth of an inventive genius is a testament to the boundless potential of the human spirit.


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