The way I know it — a personal essay is different from a “private” essay. For obvious reasons I would rather not dwell on here. The whole point is to write on things that might appeal to the writer. Expertise is irrelevant, intent is what matters.
The essayist explores the topic inside out and in the process of writing about the topic becomes an expert (relatively) himself. Willingness to enjoy this journey while identifying the ultimate destination is the key.
I don’t remember any of my English teachers telling me to create an outline before writing the essay… or they might have, I just wasn’t attentive in the class. That said, the only writing advice that I remember was from my 9th grade English teacher, who said, “write down your thoughts and feelings about this topic. Be unafraid to express yourself.”
That’s been one tip I have stuck to all my life as a writer and communicator. For the simple reason that it works for me and anyone who is creative. However, this does come with its own set of limitations. There’s only so much that you can express. You will hit a wall once you are out of gas—as far as thoughts are concerned.
Instead of getting stuck and whining about the lack of thoughts or expertise, find out more about the topic that you are writing. Explore and research more. Get to know your topic and it’s only a matter of time before you would have earned the “expert” status yourself. It’s hard at first but becomes easy as you do it more often.
Outlining one’s thoughts and organizing them logically works wonders “after” one has taken the trouble to explore the topic he is writing about.
Get out of your comfort zone and start exploring what you don’t know to know more. Remember, expertise is irrelevant as long as your intent to communicate remains intact. Go the extra mile, literally.