Writing A Seven-hundred Word Essay
Writing an essay has two distinct components for me: the expression of feelings and the craft of writing. In the first component, the theme of the essay pours out of me fluidly. I think deeply about my subject. This phase is full of passion. It is also full of unfinished sentences, misspelled words and coded abbreviations. What I write is a mix of outline notes, complete sentences and sometimes fully articulated thoughts. Usually these thoughts (and occasionally some words and sentences) have been rattling around in my head for days, sometimes months, before I sit down and collect them to form a coherent composition. Occasionally I write short notes to myself pertaining to one subject over a period of time. At some point I am “overwhelmed” by how much I want to say. This is when serious writing begins. I can hardly write fast enough. I type into a computer faster than I write on paper. I am truly a product of the digital age.
After the subject of the essay and its major points have been written or outlined, I begin the crafting process to make what I've written coherent. I generally trust the order of my notes that I've written since they are a result of “stream-of-consciousness” reflection.
This crafting process is itself comprised of two sub-processes. The syntactical phase is first. Can a sentence be written more clearly? Does it contribute substantially to the essay? (Can it be eliminated at no cost?) Can two sentences be combined eliminating some redundancy? Are there better words to express a thought?
I love alliteration lightly sprinkled throughout the essay. It gives an unconscious rhythm to the composition like changing a stroll into a momentary skip. Occasionally I will embed coded messages in an essay.
Not all essays have secret codes. Periodically, I will use this technique to illustrate a point or send a private message. Right now for instance, if one looks at the leading letter of each sentence in this paragraph, one will find the recipient of this submission.
Sometimes a sentence is inserted simply to bring the overall word count to a precise number requested for submission.
In this phase of editing, I often remove whole sentences or even an entire paragraph. I never throw them away. I put these purged words in a “leftovers” portion of my writing page. There is often something in that purged portion, a word or a phrase perhaps, that will get put back into my final essay in some other place where it is more appropriate. I lose nothing except word count by this method.
Like a poet, I occasionally use beats and measures to play with my essay at a level that I don't expect my reader to discover – a sort of “private joke.”
Next comes the semantic portion of editing. I read the essay to myself many times. Each time I reread the essay, it is from the perspective of a specific person. Depending on the theme, I may imagine my mother reading the essay or my daughter or my sophomore English teacher or the editors of NPR's This I Believe series or my next door neighbor or the last person who called on the phone, etc. Nearly every one of these readings results in some “tweaking” of the essay. Usually these are small subtle changes. Words and punctuation may change; sentences may be re-ordered or eliminated all together. Occasionally, but infrequently, additional words or sentences are added.
The crafting of the essay usually is a never-ending process for me; the essay is “finished” when the deadline arrives. Move the deadline out by one day, and you can expect a comma to be changed to a semicolon or a phrase removed or relocated somewhere in the essay.
For the day (or week or month) that I am crafting an essay, it is generally an enjoyable experience. It is like being involved in a good novel over a period of time; one looks forward to the next opportunity to resume the read. Writing is a gift that steals time from “real life” responsibilities. Since I don't earn my living as a writer, writing time is often stolen from some other priority.
© 2005, 2006 Jerry Garfunkel, Woodstock, NY 12498-1145