Writing Your Life Story With Micro Essays
What is a micro essay?
If it isn't obvious from the name, a micro essay is essentially a short essay. Despite its brevity, a micro essay possesses all the same components of a regular essay. It has an introduction, an organized body of content and a conclusion. As a format, micro essays lend themselves nicely to memoir or creative nonfiction writing. They are well suited to the exploration of a moment or memory; teasing out emotional complexity or offering perspective on the small, seemingly unimportant moments of life that end up shaping our identity. Micro essays are comparable to poems in that they are designed to stand alone. While they might contribute to a larger body of work, they are not like chapters that continue a narrative.
How long should a micro essay be?
The maximum length of a micro essay isn't something written in stone that everyone unanimously agrees on. That said, most are no longer than one page (around 800 words or less).
Why write micro essays?
Most people approach writing their memoir or life story by compiling the most important events in their life and telling those stories. Telling readers what it was like to be the youngest of 8 children, how you got your life-long career, or what happened when you met the President, are fun, neat anecdotes. This way of writing works and it can go on to be treasured by friends and family. What a micro essay does is show the story, rather than tell it. In micro essays, the writer discovers or reveals something about themselves. They also help:
- Liberate the writer from the pressure of producing some great, lengthy, detailed epoch
- Make editing easier because it recognizing description and filler that doesn't serve the narrative is more obvious when you have to cap the length
- Give meaningful insight into who someone is and their inner workings, not just what they did
- Provide space for particular ideas, voices, or events that would be too tiresome or too heavy in a longer piece
Tips for starting a micro essay
Coming up with material for a micro essay involves a great deal of self-reflection and the ability to stay in the moment. It may help to ponder these questions:
What are the moments that have made you who you are?
What memory have you retained without understanding why?
What details from that memory stick out for seemingly no apparent reason?
What emotions surface when you reflect on that moment?
Another exercise that may be helpful is to go through your day keeping a notepad nearby. When you catch yourself noticing, jot down what you noticed. For example, maybe you’re out to lunch with a friend and he asks you a question that elicits a stronger emotional reaction from you than you’d anticipated. Make note of that. Or perhaps the way your daughter’s hair curls in ringlets from the humidity reminds you of the way your mother looked on the sticky, summer night that she died. Start compiling these things you notice. Later, sit with them and ask yourself why this detail or this moment stuck out to you. Before you know it, you will have lots of little seeds that could potentially grow into micro-essays.
Finally, try to make it a regular practice, almost like journalling. If you make it a habit, you will truly capture the essence of your wonderfully unique life and the way you perceived the small, significant moments that brought meaning to it.