The Great Essay-Writing Machine
I’m a writer. I was known for enjoying writing in my youth, as a schoolboy, but it was never my intention to do it for a living. Still, here we are... I’m the author of about six books and counting. I’m just finishing a graphic novel for one major publishing house, and about to start a biography for another. It seems like all I do these days is, well, write.
I find that sometimes writing comes easily. Usually that’s at about 3am in the morning, unfortunately, when normal people are asleep. Years and years ago, when I was stuck working on an essay, I decided to write down some questions and make myself answer them in order to get unstuck. I found it helped.
I still use the same questions when I’m writing nonfiction books and articles. Sometimes when my friends have told me that they’re stuck trying to write an essay or book chapter, I’ve shared my questions with them. They’re tough questions so it can be a bit annoying. If you’ve got the patience for it, though, they often seem to help. So here they are…
- What’s the main point you’re trying to arrive at in your conclusion?
- What conclusion do you think your audience will expect you to arrive at?
- What are the three main supporting points you must include?
- “In other words…” — Say the same thing again but use completely different words to prove comprehension of your key points.
- “So what?” — What’s the fundamental importance of each of your key points?
- “What does it all mean?” — Explain how your key points link together or support your main conclusion as briefly as you can.
- “Rubbish!” — What are the most powerful criticisms that could be made against your position? How can you best answer each one in turn?
- What essential words, phrases, or quotations, should you include?
- Paraphrase or explain each one to prove your comprehension of the terminology.
- What unanswered questions do you still have about the subject?
- Do some quick research — try to answer each of them as best you can.
- What’s the most powerful statement of your position that you could include in your conclusion?
I’ve found it helpful to play other tricks on myself to get creative. Strangely, I often find that if I change the font and the background colour and layout of pages, then re-read my drafts, it helps me see things differently. I often print out drafts and read them aloud, or get other people to read them to me.
I’d love to know what strategies you use to