When I began my high school career, I had absolutely no idea what it meant to write an essay. I had spent my entire time in grade school writing substandard acrostic poems and stories about woodland creatures. Having never written anything close to a formal argumentative piece, to say that I found the essay intimidating would have been an understatement.
Luckily, I had teachers who were willing to put forth the effort to help me and my classmates learn exactly how to construct a thesis statement. With their help, we wrote them again and again; most turned out wordy and unclear. Eventually though, I was able to sort out a three point thesis that was a strong enough foundation from which I could construct an essay.
I thought that was it; I had my argument formed into a thesis so I was ready to write my first essay. The word itself still gave me an uncomfortable pit in my stomach, but I was ready. After rejecting the idea of an outline, I wrote what I thought was an amazing essay – three points and everything. It took me over a week – and I barely finished – but it was done and I thought it was perfect. It turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The essay that was handed back to me a few days later was littered with red pen and stamped with one very disappointing grade. Evidently, I didn’t know what I was doing. However, I did know that I never wanted to do it again. Unfortunately though, I wasn’t granted that option. I soon discovered that if I was going to make it through high school I was going to have to write many more essays.
And more essays I wrote. In fact, essays were the only form of written work that I produced in either English or History class during my entire high school career. However, as I wrote more essays, I became more comfortable with the whole process. I learned from my mistakes and instead of skipping the outline, I chose to make outlines that were as detailed as possible. Every argument that I wanted to make, and every quote I wanted to use was written down in a clear and organized outline well before I began writing my essay. While this may have made my writing process considerably longer, it made it also made it considerably less stressful; I no longer felt the pit in my stomach.
Writing – and even outlining – my essay never became my favourite part of the process, though. What I loved most about the essay was the investigation that came before; it made me feel like some sort of detective – like Sherlock Holmes. Unearthing the true meaning behind each piece of writing felt was like solving a mystery or making a new discovery. It also helped me gain a much deeper appreciation for the author and the work as a whole. If I could uncover the deeper meaning of poem, novel or play, then it didn’t matter how much I liked the characters or persona within them; the mystery was still fun to solve. And this translated well into my essays. I began to see them more as a means of displaying the evidence for all – okay mostly my teacher – to see. Although it never became my favourite part of the process, the essay itself was finally fun to write.
Regrettably, the focus and attention that was paid to the essay during my time in high school came at the expense of developing my ability to write just about anything else. While I now know the expected voice to use while writing an essay on a poem or a play, I find it incredibly difficult to write an article, critique, or even a blog post. The word ‘essay’ may not give me a pit in my stomach anymore but the words ‘creative’ and ‘personal’ sure do. My hope for university – and this class in particular – is that it will help me to gain an appreciation for other voices and other forms of writing. I want to have a certain level of comfort when writing articles, or my own narratives rather than analyzing someone else’s. I know the goal of this class is to learn how to improve the academic essay – I look forward to this as well – but if all I can accomplish through this course is an exposure to new forms of writing, then I will consider it a success.