The key to writing personal essays: pay attention

Apr 26, 2018

For the last 10 years, Karen Anderson has been writing weekly essays heard on Interlochen Public Radio.

The essays are vivid, personal, and relatable. Karen takes time to notice the little details and experiences of everyday life.

Karen Anderson has compiled her essays into a new book, “Gradual Clearing : Weather Reports from the Heart.” 

Karen began writing for the Traverse City Record-Eagle. She started book reviews, and eventually got her own personal column. She’d write about a new restaurant or a community event. But sometimes she’d write about something personal, like her grandmother.

"Gradual Clearing : Weather Reports from the Heart" contain 120 essays she's written for airing on Interlochen Public Radio.
Credit Dan Wanschura

“The one’s (stories) people really liked were the personal ones,” Karen says. “So, I started writing them every week, and I did that for 30 years.” 

Karen’s essays are based on her life experiences. She writes about a variety of things, everything from the smell of a particular soap she used growing up, to a puppy sprinting up the stairs. These are experiences many people can relate to, but haven’t necessarily taken the time to think about.

She says she gets her essay ideas by simply paying attention to details.

“I think we all notice stuff, maybe we just don’t know that we’re noticing,” she says. “Not only can [the details] just be beautiful to describe and envision, but they may suggest meanings and connections.” 

Writing gives Karen's life meaning. She says writing about her life helps her understand her and her life better. 

“By writing down the experiences, I’m able to look at them more clearly,” she says. “Writing is a way for me to add meaning, and unearth meaning from my ordinary experience.”

You can find Karen's book, Gradual Clearing : Weather Reports from the Heart” at Horizon Books and Amazon