Show, don't tell. Personal essays, like any good piece of writing, need to grab the reader quickly and create a memorable image. While the difference between "It was a dark and stormy night" and "On March 20th, in the evening, while near the water, with minimal light, it began raining" is pretty obvious, many of my best students struggle with descriptive writing. Check out this recent article by HEATHER HAVRILESKY in The NYT Magazine. The whole piece is dynamically written, very fast, very engaging, and the first two paragraphs really shine as an example of how to economically create a complete setting.