I never was very good at academic essays. Even while I slowly chipped away at earning my undergraduate degree in English, I constantly got caught up on the title or finding the perfect first line before I’d have a chance to explore the topic I was trying to write about.
Moreover, while many of my friends seemed to breeze through essays, even writing “A” papers in the hour or two before the deadline, I often got so stuck that by the time I caught a first line, my deadlines had passed.
But I’ve developed a theory.
We Americans are taught to produce essays rather than develop a writing practice in which we might explore topics of interest. The five-paragraph essay is a handy structure that, when executed to its full potential, does make for an easy-to-read experience. However, it’s also quite utilitarian in nature: Tell the reader what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you just told them.
I fear that, early on, we learn to fill in this structure rather than to develop a structure based on content. In its nature, this way of writing essays is, in fact, an invention of the U. S. Utilitarian (maybe even Puritan). It strips an essay—both in writing and in reading—from the very definition of an essay.
In fact, even at the university level, we’re often asked to provide a thesis statement and an outline in our first “drafts” of an essay so that professors can identify that we’re on the right track. Though some essays do come to us quite clearly, with easy to identify bulleted headings or topic sentences, many do not.
I’ve seen far too many smart, capable students, including myself, become completely bewildered at how to proceed when this happens. We weren’t given the tools to work through writer’s block or develop essays organically.
If you find yourself frequently stuck when an idea strikes, or if you find yourself short of ideas altogether, there’s a dead-simple way to shed those internalized production-based writing methods and free-write your way through writer’s block quickly and consistently. Follow these steps to make that happen.Continue reading