Why You Should Be Writing Essays

Feeling stuck but aren’t sure how to get back to it? I recommend writing short essays.

When I get stuck, and all writers do, I try and break down a larger piece of writing into its simplest elements.

Perhaps you are working on a memoir but feel overwhelmed. Try writing one scene — just one essay, instead. That’s all.

Or, if you get stuck, try writing a paragraph. Not happening? Go small. Try a sentence. Still nothing? I say three words a day. Still, feeling blocked? Try one word. You can write a word a day, I promise you. And viola: with that one word, you are back to hitting the blank page. It might not sound sexy, or seem glamorous, but that’s how it works. And eventually in a few days, that one word turns to a few, which develops into a sentence! And then a paragraph! And eventually you might be writing a good page or two.

You might say, I’m writing a memoir, how will this help me? Well, break down a memoir and you’ll find a collection of personal essays. Writing a non-fiction book? At it’s core that’s straight narrative essay. Perhaps, you’re mixing it up: a hybrid piece of writing that includes personal experience, facts and your opinion. Congratulations, you’re writing an Op-ed.

Breaking a larger writing assignment down to its essential parts is skill every writer must learn, and one of the keys to writing itself. It’s something I try and practice, myself, and make a point of helping my students learn in my essay classes. (Next one starts Feb. 11 online at NYU)

Piece by piece, word by word, you will come out the other side with a finished draft. The most important part is starting.

Whether your New Year’s Resolution is to write more, or to pen an entire book, start where you are. With the curiosity of a beginner’s mind, open to whatever may develop on the page, be willing to embrace your writing practice however it may show up. And for me, that means beginning small — with one, short essay.

Also on Medium: Should Journalists Consider Personal Essays?
“The personal essay is one of the hottest kinds of writing,” says Jennifer Mattson, a former journalist for CNN, CBS and GlobalPost, who also teaches personal essay writing at New York University at the School of Professional Studies. “There’s a huge readership for this.”