It's not true! Through Regent University, I took a class called "The Art of the Essay." It changed my entire perspective on the genre. Essays can be absolute firecrackers! Observational or funny. Witty, tragic, thoughtful! Where can we find these masterful works? Read on to find out. This semester, I also realized some major benefits of learning the art of the essay. What are these benefits? And, last of all, how can we begin to craft our own unique writing voices and riveting techniques?
I'm sure we all remember writing essays like "What I did over Summer vacation" and "An Embarrassing Experience." Boring. BORING! But that's not how it has to be. William James said essays were "The Moral Equivalent of War."
In class, I learned about non-academic essays (have you ever heard of such a thing? I hadn't!), and how different they look from the average school slop. They can be treatises, but they can also be stories. Memoirs, to be specific. All the essays I read this semester came from an anthology called The Best American Essays of the Century, with Joyce Carol Oates and edited by Robert Atwan. They blew my mind! Then, even better than reading powerful essays, we learned to write them as well! I had to share this with my blog readers, of course! ;)
Why might you want to write an essay like this? There are a few reasons. For one, it is a polished, powerful form of journaling. You can keep records of important moments in your life by writing them into memoir essays. The second reason is that we never really understand life events unless we explain them. Author and philosopher Dorothy L. Sayers says it like this, "You only experience a thing when you can express it--however haltingly--to your own mind" (85). We have to work it out for ourselves. Sayers also explains that this type of expression changes a person so that "he no longer feels himself battered passively by the impact of external events" (86). I'm going to keep up this fabulous excercise.
Nobody likes to be judged, and yet people like to judge. This conundrum, which applies very much to me (sadly), was the subject of a creative non-fiction essay I recently wrote. If you would like to read it, click here.
Christy Dares You #4
Pick an essay from the late 19th Century or early 20th. My recommendation? "How it Feels to be Colored Me" by Zora Neale Hurston (click here to read it for free). To read other essays of this awesome genre for free, click here.
Then, write an essay in the style of the author you read. Notice the level of vocabulary, the length of the sentences, the types of sensory details and images. It's hard--but push yourself. Organize. Polish. You'll be happy with the result. If you would like to exchange your work with me, I'd love to partner in critiques with you!
For those searching for a Christian worldview concerning literature, I highly recommend the essay cited below as a conservative source (you can order it from the library):
"Sayers, Dorothy L. "Towards A Christian Esthetic." The Whimsical Christian. New York:
Macmillan, 1979. Print."