8. End with emotional insight. Personal essays must get personal. But even if you bravely revisit your worst struggles, playing victim and reciting a litany of injustices inflicted upon you is boring and cliché. Question, challenge, reveal and trash yourself more than others. One colleague wrote about her ex-husband of 20 years, an abusive alcoholic, listing all his evils. When she admitted she knew he was a problem drinker after a year, I suggested refocusing on why she’d stayed for 19 more. Turned out her father was a drinker and her mother helped him give up the sauce—at age 60. So that was her model for marriage. Now that piece was a standout.