The Art of the Essay

person holding blue ballpoint pen writing in notebook

The art of the essay is a practice much like medicine and law. There are no predefined rules besides conventions of grammar holding together your thoughtforms, what we call words. Every time we set ourselves to composing a work of writing, we must consider it as an experiment. Each time you set yourself to putting approximations of the thoughts and ideas you’re cooking up inside your skull, whatever you inevitably produce is necessarily going to be something to be built upon and learned from earnestly.

Essay writing, in particular, is very much a product of trial and error, in ways that should be considered scientific. The essayist must be earnest about their work. The words you decide to publish for intellectual consumption must be ordered and chosen with great conviction.

The first draft of any work must be regarded with care. It must not readily discarded out of any feelings of its inadequacy or out of sheer frustration. The beauty of words is that they are an incredibly malleable medium. Many other artistic works must be reimagined and often necessarily recreated in a more refined form. Despite what common sense may tell you, words are never the solid impressions in stone you may believe them to be. Even if the words themselves never change, how they will be perceived by minds other than your own will change.

Serious essay writing involves finding common threads in language that serve to truly convey ideas of a complex nature. As language evolves naturally with the natural evolution of the collective unconscious, the writer must evolve their skills along with the shifting tides of popular opinion and the morphing nature of common vocabulary. Yet the essayist must not be washed up in these tides or be restricted to common vernacular. Rather, the essayist must take them into account and bring them to the forefront of their work while also letting their own unique experience and skillset weave them into something even more evolved.

An essay should engage and lift others’ understanding of both themselves and the world. For all the things that are unknowable, there are infinitely more that are knowable, and have yet to be written about as yet. This is the realm of the essay writer – a murky dimension filled with gray areas and seeds of controversy. Riding the ebbs and flows of popular opinion, charting popular topics and trending interests, and being unafraid to find the hidden in plain view; these are just a few of the scientific methods the essayist must use to become a master of the craft.

Still, the art of the essay is open to interpretation as much as any other human artistic venture. Language itself changes up its palette more often than we realize. If anything, a painter is lucky that colors are what they are for eternity, whereas words are not permanent, but instead are symbols that over time shift and sometimes become forgotten in their true meaning. One day, thousands of years from now, translators will be needed to distill the works of today into the vernacular of millennia yet to come. But, the art of the essay itself will always remain the same; only the content, style, and medium will change.

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.
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