Personal Essay Crash Course // In-person

Everything you need to know to start writing your true story

Personal Essay Crash Course // In-person

"Is my story worth telling?" Many writers confront this question when writing personal essays.

Popular culture sends us mixed messages when it comes to writing about our personal experiences. On one hand, we’re told that our stories matter; on the other, we’re warned against being narcissistic navel-gazers.

While the idea of "navel-gazing" has negative connotations today, the term stems from a Greek idea meaning "a contemplation of one’s navel as an aid to meditation." In this workshop we’ll consider how contemplation of the self can lead writers to larger truths, which in turn enables us to write essays that resonate with readers.

The workshop will conclude with the opportunity to write and share part of your draft for feedback.

During this workshop you will:

  • LEARN about the history and contemporary scope of the genre;
  • DISCOVER the form through a variety of examples;
  • EXPLORE what makes a personal essay compelling to readers; 
  • UNEARTH ideas for your own essays; and
  • BEGIN writing your essay

Suitable for beginning essay writers as well as those who’d like a refresher course on the genre


Saturday, February 29th, 2020
1 pm - 4 pm

Advance registration strongly recommended.
The workshop is limited to 25 students.

$25 if registered by 2/18/2020 
$35 if registered after 2/18/2020

A copy of True Stories, Well Told  and a highlighter is included in the price of registration.


Can't join us in Pittsburgh? There's a webinar option available as well. 


Schedule Overview

Presentation // Introduction to the Personal Essay
1:00-2:15pm

The presentation will serve as an introduction to the personal essay. You will learn about the history of the personal essay genre and will review a variety of essays to get a sense of the contemporary scope of the form. The presentation will cover what makes a personal essay compelling to readers, how to find subject matter for writing personal essays, and how to connect our personal stories to larger themes and ideas. We’ll also touch on where to publish personal essays.

The presentation will end with a Q & A

Writing Workshop // Writing Personal Stories
2:30-4:00pm

The workshop will include time to write and the opportunity to share part of your draft for feedback.


Location // 607 College Ave Suite 100 Pittsburgh PA 15232


Jennifer (Jenna) McGuiggan co-authored Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: A Visual History (Clarkson Potter, 2019). Her essays have appeared in The Rappahannock Review, Essay Daily, Flycatcher, New World Writing, and online for Prairie Schooner and Brevity. Her work has been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology and chosen as a finalist in contests from Prime Number Magazine, Hunger Mountain, and the Orison Anthology. Jenna received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is currently writing a book of linked essays that explore longing and belonging, from where we live to what we believe. Through her business,The Word Cellar, she works as a freelance writer and editor and hosts an online membership community for writers.


Questions? Please call us at 412-404-2975 or email the director of education, Sharla Yates, at yates@creativenonfiction.org.