English Essays

End the Dread and Enjoy Writing Essays!

Your essay on the Great Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, Hamlet, or whatever work of literature you have spent the last couple of weeks reading in English class is due tomorrow. Are you excited to hand it in after one last read through? Very commonly that is not the case, and students are hoping that some miraculous inspiration will occur, or a natural disaster will strike causing the cancellation of school. Let’s take some simple steps to make sure you never wind up in the throes of essay agony again.

Forewarned is Forearmed

Once you start reading the novel, short story, play, or poem, read it as the subject of your future essay. First, you must get what is going on in the literary work.  Don’t just muddle through and have a vague idea.  You can’t write about something that you don’t know very well. So read it yourself, get what you can from class, and make use of  Spark Notes, Cliff Notes, or whatever you find on the internet that discusses the work—not in place of reading but rather to augment your understanding of what you have read.

Read looking for themes and motifs that express themes. Pay attention to how the reader gets to know the characters. Do they develop over the course of the story? If so, in what way? Consider the setting and note any literary devices. Take notes in the book or on paper on such items and on anything that makes an impression on you as a reader. Try to figure out what was important to the author in writing this work.

The Thesis Statement

The thesis statement is not the first thing you write. First you write down the items of interest that you have discerned, for example, the repetition of a phrase or event, two characters who are diametrically opposed to each other and appear together frequently, an occurrence that seems calculated to create a plot twist, or the use of setting to function like a force on the characters.

From those notes, you will put together a statement about the work, the thesis: something you have discovered that the author is trying to convey. Your job in writing the essay will be to prove that your assertion about the work is valid because it is supported by the text.

Get your thesis (or prompt for the essay if that is supplied rather than your creating your own thesis) in front of you—literally right in front of your eyes because everything you write goes to prove your assertion about the work. Without that idea, which you have about the work and which you want to convince your reader is true (i.e. a thesis), you cannot write an essay. The thesis is the north star to a lost traveler, the lighthouse beacon to the ship at sea—you get my point; you are lost in essay morass if you do not have a strong thesis that you are proving to the judge and jury (your reader) every step of the way.

The thesis must be clearly stated by the end of your first paragraph.

Your First Draft 

With your thesis in front of you, get your notes, quotes, and outline. You will have given enough thought to developing those items that the essay nearly writes itself.

Do Not Proofread—READ!

You are the author of a written work, not a hired editor. You are not proofreading; you are relishing your work.  You are Monet looking at the Waterlilies to decide if the shading is correct; you are Mozart listening to the chords to decided if an additional note is needed.  READ IT OUTLOUD and you will catch mistakes and force yourself to consider if you have succeeded in conveying your ideas clearly. Then. . .

Rewriting is Writing

There is no way that the first or second outpouring of your ideas onto paper will succeed in conveying your ideas, prove your assertion, and achieve clarity and accuracy in punctuation and grammar. Read it again, set it aside for a night and make more corrections.

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