Are you an essayist? Unlike a novel, history book, or academic publication, an essay provides the versatility to express a multitude of opinions. Consider Plutarch the ancient Greek historian, biographer, and essayist. Perhaps you may think of French enlightenment writer Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet). History has many examples of great essayists. Most wrote their essays to answer a nagging need, as do many modern bloggers.
Essay writers come from every corner of the globe. Mahasweta Devi, the Indian social activist, or Julio Valle Castillo, Nicaraguan poet, novelist, painter, and essayist. From the furthest reaches of time, American Ralph Waldo Emerson or Russian novelist and philosopher Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy. Lexicographer and linguist, Dr. Samuel Johnson, who created the first dictionary.
Great Essays from History
Great essays of history give us a sense of the events that occurred, the period, the forces of history, and some of the thinking or debating that happened. Or perhaps an appeal for some rational thinking. “You are today the one person in the world who can prevent a war which may reduce humanity to the savage state.” These words, in 1939 by Gandhi, addressed to Adolph Hitler on the verge of World War 2 in 1939.
They can be any length, from a simple letter to a full-sized book (or more). Most people will not go to the extent John Locke did in “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding”, which is 4 books in length. It is that which makes an essay so flexible an art-form. Alexander Pope introduced the poetic essay to the world.
The point of an essay is that it’s perhaps the most flexible of the literary genres. The presentation, the argument, the length, all so flexible. Quite distinct from the focused school essay used to answer a question or critique a viewpoint. As a part of establishing the form of expression, Frances Bacon wrote in many styles and covered a wide range of topics. Looking at a subject in detail and from many angles. Frenchman Michel de Montaigne set out to record traits of character. His work contains rhetoric and intrigue but does so describing his own introspection.
The genre gives so much flexibility.The point of an essay is that it's perhaps the most flexible of the literary genres. The presentation, the argument, the length, all so flexible. Quite distinct from the focused school essay used to answer a question or to critique. Click To Tweet
Enter the Blog…
A blog is one modern publishing location for the essay. The direct nature of an essay lends itself to the blog. It is about expressing ideas. Include a personal sense of humour. Be persuasive, show others of the correctness of your argument, etc. Of course, this is capped off with the fact that you can publish without anyone else’s permission (mostly).
Every writer needs a blog, which has a place in a writer’s life. It can be a place for those thoughts, following the method of Michel de Montaigne. It can be a place for great statements of social change. Each depends on the aim of the writer. Is there a right way or a wrong way? No. Persuading others of your perspective can be the core part of an essay. These skills alone can provide the foundation for a successful blog. But that is not what every writer needs.
What are your needs as a writer? Only you can know. Is essay writing for you? That is something you will need to discover.
Essays explore and imagine what is possible, identify the problems, propose alternatives. For hundreds of years, the essay served as a connection. A way to persuade others of a certain perspective. A place to record stories and histories (whether personal or for a group).
The word essay comes from the French word ‘to try’. The English adopted is an idea put on trial. Arguably, for the reader’s heart and mind. The extent of the trial being for the reader to determine. Writers use all the tools in their arsenal to show the value of the proposition. Appeal the heart or to the logical mind. A well-written essay can evoke an assortment of responses, emotions from the reader as well. Some will define a response, an essay of their own.
They may be short, yet profound or long and rambling. Each has its place. These qualities apply equally to blog posts.
The essay owes its origin to the ancient Greeks. Philosophers like Aristotle believed writers had to be convincing, provide a compelling argument and appeal to reason and emotion. This should still be the basis of the rhetorical argument in modern times.
Many essays use a convincing, first-person voice. The goal: to show the writer has a deep connection with the subject matter. The material that comprises the essay comes from first-hand experience or things witnessed. Aristotle believed that experience or proofs provided by the writer combined with the rationality and the research/data to support the argument enabled the essay to be well read, even with skeptical readers. Various genres of essay include:
- Letters of an intimate nature.
- Tragic essays.
- Letters which appeal, privately or publicly, for change.
- Express opinions.
- A polemic, which strongly supports one, or other, side of an argument.
- Historical essays, describing moments in history, including memoirs.
The advantage the essay offers is that there are no fixed rules, structure, form or style. Start writing, express an opinion, that is all, just what the blogger ordered. In part, the expression or words and ideas is the point of the essay. Put simply, opinion matters.
For some, the very word “essay” brings back memories of school days. Those essays you had to write on specific subjects back in the dreary classrooms. Personally, I felt that school was an exciting time. Schoolbooks were not filled with dread. Quite the opposite, each lesson, having an opportunity to discover. Yet, school is likely the reason many writers face a blank page with dread.
The essay should be an easy start. All you need, an insight into a story and why it needs telling. Does it need investigation? Research? The essay often doesn’t need to go that far. Some do, but not all. It can start with the core of an idea and ask questions, explore options. Do you need to become an investigative journalist? Not always.
Ways to write an Essay
Having said before there is no correct path to writing an essay. As with writing any piece, there is a process. The fact that we live in the electronic age ensure we can say what we wish.
The reasons to write may include any of the following:
- An explosion of ideas in the mind.
- Exposure to a wrongdoing or social injustice.
- Gain a reaction from an audience.
- Identify a fresh perspective.
- Sounding off
These reasons can map onto historical essay forms. As with any form of writing, there are a set of steps to take. A plan to make (even if that is only in the mind). Editing and getting the final piece correct is vital.
- Building that first draft.
- Creating a sense of clarity.
- Opening, the perspective, the place, the purpose, etc.
- An invitation for the reader to come on the journey
Study.com takes the view “Good essays give both sides of an argument. Presenting information impartially and considering multiple points of view.” This may be true for academic writing. Yet history has shown great essays are not bound by those same constraints. Essays, more than other art-forms do show bias. They provide a focal point for an expression.
Who are You?
Are you a great essayist of the future? You have every opportunity to be. If that is your genre, then it is time to start out, create a blog, give your views and write essays. With the right encouragement anyone can do it, what about you?Are you a great essayist of the future? You have every opportunity to be. If that is your genre, then it is time to start out, create a blog, give your views and write essays. Click To Tweet
Featured Image: Art equals change by Peder Cho CC0 Public Domain on Unsplash
Peter B. Giblett is a freelance editor and writer with a background in business and technology management. He is also a non-practicing lawyer. English born, now living in Canada. He’s an Alumni of City University (London) and University of West London. Entrant and winner of National Novel Writing Month 2015, a novel he is currently editing. He runs his own blog called GobbledeGoox, which provides thoughts on writing, blogging, words, and wordcraft.
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