Who hasn’t seen Forrest Gump? A touching, hilarious, poignant movie about a shrimp-fishing, table-tennis-playing, long-distance-running war hero from the deep South.
The movie begins with Forrest sitting at a bus stop. As various people come and go, Forrest recalls the story of his life. It’s like the movie version of a narrative essay.
Forrest does a good job of describing what has happened at various points throughout his life, but the viewer is left with the job of taking it a step beyond the narration.
This next step is reflection. The audience listens to the things Forrest has accomplished in his life and attaches deeper meaning to them in regard to what they teach us about success, social perceptions, and life in general.
If you were to combine Forrest’s narration with the audience’s contemplation, you’d get the movie version of a reflective essay.
A reflective essay is about you.
This means there won’t be any lengthy research attached to a reflective writing assignment (yay!). Instead, you will be asked to describe a part of your life and reflect on what you learned from it.
This “part of your life” could take many forms. You could focus on an experience, a personality trait, or an important person you’ve met who has influenced you in some way. There’s a lot of wiggle room, if you will, in a reflective essay to make it your own.
I can hear you now: “No research? I just have to write about myself. Piece of cake.”
However, it’s precisely this sense of freedom that can get you in trouble. There are enough pitfalls with reflective writing to fill an entire blog post. But I’m a positive guy, so let’s instead focus on five tips for a super successful reflective writing assignment.
Reflective Writing Tip #1: Choose the Right Topic
The first and, perhaps, most important step in a reflective writing assignment is choosing the right topic. Choosing the wrong topic can lead to that nightmarish moment when, after trudging through a difficult first draft, you realize that you may have to start over.
Avoid this scenario by giving yourself lots of time to choose a topic. I know you want to procrastinate. I know. But just don’t. Start thinking about topics immediately.
This doesn’t have to be intensive work. Just give it some thought throughout the day. When you get an idea, jot it down. Eventually, you’ll have a list of topics to choose from when you sit down to put fingers to keyboard.
I can hear you saying to yourself, “I don’t even know where to start thinking.” Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered.
When brainstorming reflective essay topics, keep the following questions in mind.
Am I excited to write about this topic?
If not, you’re going to be miserable throughout this entire process. Think of an experience that you’re actually interested in reflecting upon.
Has this experience influenced me in some way?
More on this in a bit, but just keep in mind that an experience lacking in any type of lesson learned is not going to work for a reflective essay.
Is this topic unique? Will it be interesting for my reader?
The tendency is to play it safe when writing an essay that involves a personal topic. You may be inclined to avoid writing about anything that may be considered abnormal by your reader. But as Forrest says, “What’s normal anyways?”
I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone when choosing a reflective essay topic. You may be surprised at what you can gain from it.
And if you need a little help getting started on topic ideas, check out these example reflective writing essays:
- Live Each Moment for What It’s Worth
- Character Traits of a Good Leader
- The Psychology of Wanting
- My Journey to Find out More about General Anxiety
- Learning to Appreciate Everything That Happens in Life
Reflective Writing Tip #2: Go Deeper
One of the biggest traps a writer can fall into when tackling a reflective essay is to get it confused with a narrative essay. As mentioned above, the two have similarities, but they also have one big difference.
Imagine, for instance, that one day you were running from bullies and, unknowingly, ran past a football scout who, noticing your amazing speed, gave you a scholarship to play college football.
This, in and of itself, is a great story, but in a reflective essay, you must go deeper.
Add in the fact that as a child you were told you’d never be able to run because of a crooked spine, and you’ve got the makings of a strong reflective essay about breaking expectations.
The goal is to analyze how this event shaped the person you are today. It’s easy to get lost in the story and assume that the reader understands the significance behind it, but you have to include that analysis in your writing.
Like Mama, you have to explain it so the reader can understand it.
I imagine, after the above experience, you might think twice when someone says you aren’t good enough to do something. An experience like that might influence success in other areas of life—which is what you would focus on in your essay.
Reflective Writing Tip #3: Think About the Future
So you’ve thought of a great story from the past that you want to tell in your essay. You have a great angle from which to analyze this story in relation to how it has affected you up until this point.
Now, I suggest you take it even one step beyond this.
How has the past experience in your life changed your goals for the future? Has it shaped your destiny?
Forrest Gump had a wonderful relationship with his mother. There are several moments between them that would make for a great reflective essay—from her willingness to do anything to get him into the public school system to her battle with cancer.
All of these moments shaped the way Forrest looked at the world and made decisions in his life, but I imagine they also will affect the way he raises his own son in the future.
After telling of past experiences and analyzing their effects on the present, why not take the time to reflect on how those experiences may have affected your future goals? It’s one more layer of reflection that will help make your reflective writing assignment super successful.
Reflective Writing Tip #4: Plan Before You Write
Although you may have thought of a great story to tell and think you can jump right in and write it, I encourage you to take the time to plan your reflective essay.
Much like life itself, reflecting on the past can lead in many surprising directions. This is one of the coolest parts of a reflective essay. It isn’t cut and dry like some other essays in which you research and write about a topic.
You get a chance to learn something about yourself when tackling a reflective essay.
First, take the time to develop a reflective essay outline. It might seem like a waste of time to create an outline for an essay about a personal subject. But a reflective essay outline will help you to focus on the most important details, create a roadmap of your essay journey, and ultimately, save you time.
Much like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get when you start a reflective essay. Take the time to plan before you write, and you’ll get something clear, concise, and personally rewarding.
Reflective Writing Tip #5: Finished? Keep Working
Any and every good piece of writing consists of several drafts. Reflective writing is no different. After outlining and then writing your essay, I suggest using the reflective learning cycle to, uh, reflect on your draft.
The four steps to the reflective learning cycle are plan, act, observe, and reflect.
We’ve already gone over the planning part of the process above. When you’re finished outlining your essay, you will move on to the action, which, you guessed it, involves writing your essay.
Once you’ve written the first draft, you will tackle the observation portion of the process. This involves going back and reading your draft. I suggest that you give yourself some time between writing and observing.
Go to the beach or watch a movie after finishing the first draft. Put all thoughts of that past draft behind you before thinking about the next one. By getting the essay out of your head, you will be able to return to it with a clearer perspective.
Once you have reread your essay, you should then reflect on it. What worked? What didn’t? Were there holes in your story? Your analysis? Have your insights changed? Are there new perspectives that should be included?
At this point, the cycle begins again. You plan your next draft, rewrite the essay, observe, and reflect on it. You should continue circling this process until you no longer feel the need to make more changes.
Even at this point, you’re not done. Remember when I suggested that you step away from your essay after writing it and before reading it in order to clear your mind? Well, the fact is, you’ll never be able to look at your own essay from a completely clear and unbiased perspective.
I suggest that you shoot your essay over to one of the professional editors at Kibin. He or she will apply a new set of eyes and an editor’s mind to your reflective essay, giving it the much needed final touches before declaring it a final draft.
I love reflective writing. I’m always surprised at what I can learn about myself when I take the time to reflect and write. I encourage you to follow the above tips to achieve a super successful reflective essay, and I wish you luck in learning something about yourself in the process.
As for me, I think I’ll have some shrimp tonight. Maybe some shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp …