How the Five Paragraph Essay Almost Ruined My Writing

amelia phoenix desertsong

When I was in high school, students were often forced to write their essays in the dreaded five-paragraph format. Being a passive-aggressive rebel, I often neglected to write that way. Because of this, I’d often be graded poorly on many assignments. 

I just let my words flow without any regard for restrictions we were meant to respect. These restrictions seemed ridiculous to me. At the time, I didn’t realize the reasonable things that following such a format could teach. It was just frustrating to me.

The five paragraph essay was carefully delineated like so:

  • an introduction
  • thesis statement
  • three key points
  • those key points explained in each following paragraph
  • a conclusion that wrapped up the entire essay

It’s a fairly good structure to teach proper form in developing an essay, certainly. But, my own writing abilities were already beyond the point I needed such structure. The worst part was they often limited us to a single page. You can tell how verbose I am. It didn’t end well. I’d be writing in the margins!

Still, I have to admit I was a fairly amateur writer in junior high. I still hadn’t yet found my writing voice. But, the way that we were taught the five paragraph essay in grades seven through ten almost ruined me as a writer.

By the time I got to around my sophomore year in high school, I had developed a specific style. No one could make me deviate from it. That’s why my grades suffered. This form was forced on us by the state school board because it was required that we write that way on the standardized state test.

The irony is that when I took the state test at the end of 10th grade, I didn’t follow that form at all. I received one of the highest English composition grades in the school. It wasn’t until my junior year, when my English teachers relaxed the restrictions on form, that I was able to thrive as a writer.

You Never Stop Growing as a Writer

I’m glad I stayed the course with finding my own writing voice. Certainly, my writing voice is far more refined now. Yet, I look back at work I wrote over a decade ago, and it’s written with pretty much the same voice I started writing with back then! 

The thing is, you should never look at restrictions as being stifling. This is something that took me years to learn. As I started to master certain forms of poetry, I realized that the restrictions can actually be a boon to creativity and expression. 

Had I known then what I know now, I could’ve written the finest five-paragraph essays of all time. OK, maybe not, but I would have written more than adequately to the instructors’ appeasement.

Of course, writing from the past is likely not as clear as what you’d write today. But, you start to see consistency in your writing voice as you keep writing. So, my rebellious nature when it came to developing my own writing style allowed me to bring you the voice in writing you read today.

The lesson here is that all it takes to develop a voice in writing is practice. Even when arbitrary rules are forced on you, this is an opportunity to focus and hone your skills. Of course, writing on your own, you can let go. Sometimes I ignore even conventions of grammar and spelling just to get the words down. 

It’s really as simple as just writing as much as you can and about as many topics as you can. Simply build your vocabulary and exercise your writing abilities at least once a day. The better you can translate your thoughts into words, the more articulate and smarter you’ll become!

Sure, you’re going to struggle at times. A lot of what you write may not look too great to you later on. But, you need the exercise. You’ll find that after enough practice, you’ll actually start to find yourself writing very naturally. 

Even without having some innate talent for it in the beginning, anyone can write given the proper practice and devotion to the craft. Once you develop a voice in your writing, you can write about anything, anytime, anywhere!

Outside of public speaking, writing is the best way to find your unique voice. Of course, many of the greatest public speeches were written down first, too. Be a rebel. Make your voice heard. 

Everyone has a voice. Having a strong voice in writing is something no one can take away from you. Don’t ever let anyone else tell you otherwise. Learning how to develop your voice in writing is a powerful skill no one can take away from you!

And, as it turned out, the five-paragraph essay should’ve been a good thing for me to learn, not a demotivator. You live, you learn.

How have you honed your writing craft over the years?

~ Amelia <3

Writing words, spreading love, Amelia Desertsong primarily writes creative nonfiction articles, as well as dabbling in baseball, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, and whatever else tickles her fancy.
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