An Essay By Any Other Name

A short examination of the essay and why you should not be afraid of writing one.

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Here at Thanet Writers, we’re proud to host writers of all stripes—poets, short story authors, novelists…I could go on. In fact, I will, to at least one more: essayists. I mention essays in particular because, as the Essays Editor for Thanet Writers, it is perhaps natural for me to show a bias.

Essays can sometimes seem like the preserve of school and university students; they’re something you write during your academic life to please your teachers, professors, examiners, or whoever happens to be marking your work that year. You get to know about writing the perfect introduction, how many paragraphs your piece should be (therefore aligning your ideas into a fixed amount of words), and then writing a precise conclusion of whichever number of words.

But an essay is more than that—or, at least, it should be. The term essay shouldn’t be a term limited to school days, and certainly shouldn’t strike fear into the hearts of every student and adult up and down the country.

I’ve occasionally been criticised for writing longer essays than the average—whatever the average is. Granted, long-form essays take longer to read, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a place in our oeuvre, and neither do short essays either. What matters is the passion and interest in the essay; can you communicate an idea in the piece and make it interesting to the reader? If they’re engaged with what you’re saying, and the essay is a hundred words, then you’re leaving them hungry for more; if it’s 1,500 words, then they can always come back and finish reading it later. If you’ve got them hooked, then they’ll be hooked. Ignore the naysayers who tell you the perfect essay must look like this or that; write interestingly and you will bring the reader with you.

An essay is a way of sharing an idea with others regarding something you’re passionate about. And I’ll let you into a secret; the word essay is synonymous with blog post, or even podcast. Have you ever read a blog? It’s an essay in a different format. Have you ever listened to a podcast? If so, you’ve listened to an essay in audio form. The only difference is that we’re calling these articles by different names—and suddenly they don’t seem as scary, whether we’re reading, listening, or creating them. Are you reading this? Then you are reading an essay now.

The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the quality end of the market.

Essays are a constructive way of communicating an idea, a concept, a passion. Here at Thanet Writers, we’re passionate about writing in all its forms, and many others we know feel the same.

If you have similar passions, consider sharing those passions with a wider community. If you experience flashbacks to a time when your written work was marked and critiqued with a red pen, then we’re here to push those feelings to bed; in writers’ groups both online and in-person, we can offer a community of supportive readers to give respectful advice if needed. As an editor, I also love working with people to build up their pieces if they’re underconfident but have a great idea. Don’t put yourself down, but instead remember that you have a passion and that it’s good to share!

Thanet-based author Matthew has three novels published by Inspired Quill, is an inveterate blogger, and writing is his passion.

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