10 Personal Narrative Examples to Inspire Your Writing

Short creative nonfiction works called personal narratives to tell a story based on the author’s own experiences. Personal narratives can be memoirs, think pieces, or even polemics as long as they are based on the author’s convictions and life experiences.

Even though this is nonfiction, there are many different ways to approach the subject, and you can be just as imaginative as you would if you were writing fiction. Here are some outstanding samples of personal narrative essays from recent years to help you with your writing and demonstrate the incredible diversity of this style of an essay:

  1. “Only Disconnect”

As this 1,000-word gem from the NYT book review demonstrates, personal narratives don’t need to be long to be powerful. This article, which was written in 2010 as cell phones were becoming a commonplace aspect of modern life, mirrors many of our worries about technology and how it frequently separates us from reality.

In this story, Shteyngart uses his new iPhone to get around Manhattan, or more precisely, he is led by it, blind to everything around him. As he “follow[s] the arrow taco-ward,” he is totally taken in by the magical coincidence of the city. The real world rushes back in and he realizes what he’s been missing out on, though, once he leaves the city and gives up the ease of a cell phone connection.

Although the negative effects of technology are hardly new, Shteyngart’s tale is still relevant today due to the way our culture has continued to descend deeper and deeper into technological addiction over the years.

What can you learn from this piece?

Though officially nonfiction, a piece of writing need not be literal to be considered nonfiction. When Shteyngart uses his iPhone, he imagines that Manhattan physically transforms around him, becoming a nearly unrecognizably new place. From this, we can see how a little dramatization—even if it’s not exactly how something happened—can boost the impact of your message.

  1. “Why I Hate Mother’s Day”

In this article from Salon, the author of the famous writing guide Bird by Bird delves into her opinions on motherhood. Lamott investigates the negative repercussions that Mother’s Day could have on society—how its unquestioning respect for the idea of motherhood erases women’s agency and freedom to be flawed human beings.

According to Lamott, not all moms are deserving of praise, not everyone has a live mother to honor, and some mothers have lost their offspring and thus have no one with whom to share their joy. More significantly, she emphasizes how this Hallmark holiday erases everyone who contributed to a woman’s upbringing—a long line of moms and fathers, friends, and adopted family—and who made it possible for her to become a mother. Despite not being connected to a specific incident or story (unlike many traditional personal narratives), Lamott’s examination of her beliefs results in a tale about a society that places mothers on an unjustifiable pedestal.

What can you learn from this piece?

As long as you don’t make assumptions that aren’t supported by evidence, lived experience in a personal narrative essay can be virtually as reliable as peer-reviewed research. Even though some may argue that this is only an opinion piece, Lamott deftly grounds the essay in personally by explaining how she did not raise her son to observe Mother’s Day. This tiny detail, nevertheless, frames this article as a story about the author rather than just an exercise in being contrary and pulls the reader into her personal world.

  1. “The Crane Wife” by CJ Hauser

CJ Hauser joins a scientific expedition on the Texas coast to study whooping cranes just days after calling off her engagement to her fiancé. She considers the poisonous relationship she ended and how she got into this circumstance while in this new setting. By utilizing the expedition and the Japanese myth of the crane woman as metaphors for her challenges, she weaves together a number of seemingly unrelated threads.

Hauser’s encounters with the additional volunteer researchers broaden the focus of the story from her own perspective and serve to remind her of the absence of compassion in her relationship. She almost agreed to live someone else’s life in an effort to make herself smaller and less dependent in order to please her fiance, but among the whooping cranes of Texas, she takes the first step toward regaining her identity.

What can you learn from this piece?

The details you do supply need to be clear and explicit because there isn’t as much room for character development in short personal narratives as there might be in a memoir. Despite Hauser’s sparse use of description, each of the volunteer researchers on her voyage is distinct and recognizable.

For instance, Hauser characterizes one researcher as “an bachelor from Minnesota, aged 84. Despite being unable to perform the majority of the trip’s physical demands, he had participated in 95 Earthwatch excursions, including this one. Warren was ok with birds. Warren was a huge fan of cocktail hour.

We quickly learn about Warren’s boisterous, fun-loving nature and how he interacts with the other members of the group.

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

Rarely were larger women seen on screen in the movies and TV shows of the 1980s and 1990s, which served as cultural touchstones and essentially nurtured a whole generation. If they did, it would be either in a negative light or as an actual garbage dump. As a child, Carmen Maria Machado watched these cartoons, thus the lack of overweight ladies didn’t bother her. not until she entered puberty and transformed from a tiny young child to a fuller-figured teen. She struggled to locate any favorable portrayal in her preferred media as she felt suddenly uneasy in her skin.

Machado finds inspiration in Marjory the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock and Ursula, everyone’s favorite sea witch from The Little Mermaid, as she gets older and more at ease in her own body. These characters have unlimited power in the unapologetic ways they own their bodies. These are the people Machado goes to as she grapples with her own size over the years and the cruel, condescending attitudes society has toward obese women.

What can you learn from this piece?

Even if they are made up, stories nonetheless influence the world. Carmen Maria Machado makes a different point than other authors that aim for realism and show the world as it truly is. Being imaginative and picturing the world as it may be, something greater, better, and more beautiful, has power. As a result, create the narrative you desire, alter the perspective, and show your readers what the world might be like.

  1. “Am I Disabled?” by Joanne Limburg

Joanne Limburg’s article explores the ramifications of disclosing her autism as it is framed by the question that serves as its title. For Limburg, checking off “yes,” “no,” or “prefer not to say” on a bureaucratic form raises both theoretical and practical concerns regarding what it means to be impaired and how disability is seen by society as a whole.

Is having to respond to harsh inquiries worth the effort of exposing her autism? What definition are people actually looking for? If she replies yes, will anyone believe her? She examines the very real human effects this has on her life and the lives of other disabled people as she dissects the issue of what disability is.

What can you learn from this piece?

The hermit crab essay, in which an author uses an already-existing document form to contain their story, is the writing style used by Limburg. You can format your writing as a to-do list, job application, resume, email, or recipe; the options are only limited by your imagination. But it matters what format you use. It should have some connection to the story you’re telling and contribute to both the reader’s experience and your main theme.

  1. “Living Like Weasels” by Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard runs into a wild weasel while out for a walk in the woods behind her home. In the brief instant when their eyes meet, Dillard imagines herself inside the weasel’s head and considers whether the weasel’s outlook on life is preferable to her own.

According to Dillard, the weasel is a ferocious animal with teeth so strong that if it latches onto something, it won’t let go until it dies. The author thinks this way of existence is not restricting because it is necessary rather than because humanity, which is obsessed with choice, thinks it is. As long as you can find the correct type, the kind that will have you clutching on for dear life and unwilling to let go, the necessity of the weasel is the ultimate form of liberation.

What can you learn from this piece

Take on the role of a National Geographic explorer in your own backyard or neighborhood and see what you may find about yourself. When meeting a weasel, Annie Dillard, the queen of the natural autobiographical essay, learns a lot about herself and her views.

What knowledge can you get, for instance, from a blade of grass? Does it serve as a reminder that, despite our similarities, we are all different? Do migratory bird flights provide you with a perspective on the changes in your own life? If you just think to look, nature is a powerful and never-ending source of inspiration.

  1. “Love In Our Seventies” by Ellery Akers

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

Ellery Akers, a poet, succinctly expresses her delight in finding romance at the age of 75. While she discusses their daily lives and the different ways they have seen each other—in their pajamas, after having cataract surgeries, or while meditating—the language is romantic but the visual is anything but sweet. Akers notices something she loves in every unique experience, highlighting a frequently overlooked reality. The tiniest acts of love have the greatest impact.

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

Prior to it becoming “in” for white people to adopt black children, Mariama Lockington was adopted by her white parents in the early 1980s. Beginning with a family photo, the author delves into her complex views about her upbringing, the numerous instances in which her parents chose to ignore her race out of convenience, and how she eventually began to feel alienated in her own house. She takes the reader from infancy to adulthood as she describes moments from her upbringing as she negotiates attempting to exist as a black woman in a white family.

Through a series of vignettes, Lockington guides us through her life. These minor yet significant incidents combine to form a broader story about race, family, and belonging. They act as a framing device.

  1. “Drinking Chai to Savannah” by Anjali Enjeti

Anjali Enjeti is reminded of a racist encounter she had as a teen while on a trip to Savannah with her friends. Her uneasiness at being a South Asian woman traveling in Georgia and her friends’ seeming unawareness of how others perceive them serve as triggers for the flashback. Enjeti muses on her perception of otherness and race in America as she recalls the stressful and painful interaction she had in line at Wendy’s and the anxiety she feels in Savannah.

  1. “Siri Tells A Joke” by Debra Gwartney

Debra Gwartney asks Siri, the virtual assistant on her iPhone, to tell her a joke one day. In response, Siri tells a joke with a well-known premise about three men who are stranded on a desert island. When the punchline appears, Gwartney doesn’t laugh; instead, she remembers her late husband, who had passed away less than six months earlier.

Gwartney experiences a string of setbacks in a short amount of time, first losing her home and her husband’s writing archives to a wildfire and then her spouse a month later. She describes the months leading up to her husband’s demise and the protracted period that followed as she attempts to find a way to live without him even though she misses him. She comments on death and the pain of those left behind in its wake.

What can you learn from this piece?

An article on grief seems an odd place to start with a joke about three men on an island. Gwartney, on the other hand, makes excellent use of it, returning to it later on in the narrative and giving it more significance. By the time she finishes her essay, she has reframed the joke, and the original punchline has now taken on a profoundly sorrowful tone. The essay’s message on pain and love is strengthened by using a seemingly unrelated topic then referencing it later.

Phantom Writing