It’s clockwork-level predictable: I say I’m a writer, and the first question I get back is, “Ooh, so you write novels?”
And while I’m definitely not knocking you fiction folks, I straight up can’t do it. Every time I try, I just end up with thinly-veiled autobiography.
Luckily for me — and other writers like me — the personal essay is a thing. In fact, it’s even a thing you can get paid for.
But it’s definitely a competitive market out there. If you want your work to stand out from the crowd, or just find its way to the right editor in the first place, it helps to learn from a writer who has done this successfully.
Which is exactly where Amy Paturel’s online personal essay writing course, “Essay Writing: How to Find the Story in You — and Sell It” comes in.
Learn how to write (and sell) personal essays
We get it: Heading off to an MFA program for a degree in creative nonfiction isn’t in the cards for everybody. But what if you could have an affordable, professional personal essay workshop delivered directly to your email inbox?
That’s exactly what Paturel offers with her online personal essay writing course: Essay Writing: How to Find the Story in You — and Sell It. Bonus points for being able to complete the entire thing in the comfort of your pajamas. (Well, mostly. There is one prompt that involves hitting a bookstore…but who hasn’t visited a Barnes and Noble in sweatpants?)
Writing and revision prompts are just one part of this six-week course, which offers brilliant craft advice as well as granular details, like where to submit personal essays so you can get them published.
And Amy Paturel is the perfect person to guide you through the process of learning how to write a personal essay. A journalist who writes widely in the health and nutrition spaces, she’s had her own essays featured in outlets like The New York Times and Parents.
Not only is she an accomplished writer in her own right, but she’s also an accomplished instructor: she’s done seminar-style sessions in person and also offers one-on-one online coaching, and she’s been teaching a version of this very essay course for about a decade.
Can you actually sell personal essays?
Right from the get-go, Paturel keeps it 100: she doesn’t waste time compounding your pipedreams or setting you up for disappointment.
“You should know going into this class that unless you’re David Sedaris, Lena Dunham or Joan Didion, you’re not going to become rich on essays alone,” she says in the first lesson.
But that doesn’t mean essay-writing isn’t worthwhile. As she goes on to explain, it’s some of the most rewarding work a writer can do — and yes, it can also be saleable.
Although markets are limited and competition is high, Paturel’s guidance stacks the odds in your favor…especially since she includes a killer essay market database complete with specific editor contact information for 130+ publications.
Even if you don’t end up selling the pieces you workshop over the six-week course, you’ll definitely walk away a stronger writer: one unafraid to “put your whole self into it—your biggest hopes, greatest fears and deepest regrets.”
After all, most of us didn’t start writing in the first place because we were promised a hefty payday. (If anything, we may have thought we were resigning ourselves to a lifetime of working as a barista.)
What we like about Paturel’s personal essay writing course
After checking out the course for ourselves, we can honestly say there’s a whole lot to like about it.
- Paturel includes real-life personal narrative examples of hard-hitting essays published in outlets like Newsweek and The Boston Globe — by both herself and other writers.
- The course is comprehensive: Paturel covers the important components of a well-written piece, like vulnerability, personality and honesty, and more technical craftwork like word count, sensory details and dialogue. But she also goes beyond the drafting stage, offering ideas for how to deal with constructive criticism, rewriting for a specific outlet, and figuring out where and how to pitch or “query,” all with professional expertise and an injection of humor.
- Paturel’s course offers specificity, including real-world examples of query letters and insider tips on how to do the investigative footwork to find editor contact information. (This is often the hardest part, in my opinion, or at least the most thankless. You’ve already put so much work into writing the dang thing…now you’ve got to become a private eye just to figure out who to sell it to?)
- The course includes tons of actionable exercises that are easy to follow along and incorporate into your wider writing life. For example, Paturel dives deeply into the importance of journaling and teaches you how to hone your existing journaling practice to nurture budding essay ideas. She also offers weekly writing and revision assignments that are accessible but constructive — and fun. By the end of the course, you’ll have at least one polished, revised essay draft ready to submit!
- The course is accessible — dripped out in digestible, weekly emails over a six-week period, it keeps you actively writing without leaving you feeling overwhelmed. And as mentioned above, it’s way more affordable than grad school…and you won’t have to attend even one stuffy faculty party.
The one drawback we see: unlike a traditional workshop (or even some webinars), Paturel’s course doesn’t offer student interaction or instructor feedback. She does offer one-on-one coaching and one-off critiques, but if that’s something you’re interested in, you’ll need to purchase it separately.
You could also enlist the help of an accountability partner or your local writers group for feedback — and either way, you’ll get out of it what you put into it.
But wait…Here’s the most valuable part
Last but certainly not least, Paturel’s course includes access to her personal essay market database. We mentioned this above, but it’s worth diving deeper because this is truly an invaluable tool that will save you tons of time and even more headaches.
While the course arms you with what you need to conduct a thorough masthead investigation, this document takes out all the footwork for 130+ publications, including direct points of contact, notes on what kind of content they publish, and even pay rate information in some cases. And they’re definitely outlets you want to be published in: LA Times, Lenny Letter, Buzzfeed, etc.
It’s not a stretch to say that the database itself is worth the cost of the course, which is $325.
If personal essays are your thing — or you want them to be — here’s how to join Amy Paturel’s course on personal essays.
Once you land a few bylines, we hope you’ll let us know!
Photo via GuadiLab/ Shutterstock
This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!