How to Write a Masterful Essay

Valuable Tips from Someone Who Has Written and Published a Shitload of Essays

I’m often asked about my writing process. I don’t do anything special or have any secrets. I just write. I take a single idea and transform it into a journey others will connect with.

I make it sound easy because it is easy.

In my opinion, the act of writing an essay is the easiest part of the writing process. It’s the emotional process that takes a toll. I prefer to write with depth. I feel uncomfortable with the idea of churning out “content” to earn a buck. I want to write words the reader resonates with.

The definition of an essay is a short piece of written work on a particular subject. Though I have written journalism and opinion, my main focus is the personal essay. Essays are typically anywhere from 1,000–5,000 words. They can be published individually, as a collection or independently via the internet.

This is the structure I use when I write an essay.

The Outline

This is basically the scribble of my ideas. It could be in the form of words, a hand drawn diagram or a doodle.

I start with my title or topic and work the idea from there. I do this in a sketch book. I create a chronological list and doodle a map of my story’s journey. I’ll also free-write a beginning paragraph in order to figure out which direction the story wants to take me.

The truth is, I may or may not ever refer back to this information before writing the essay. Often times, just working the story is enough to generate a spark.

Think of your essay like a sandwich. One slice of bread is the beginning, one slice is the ending and there’s a bunch of tasty stuff in the middle.

The Rough Draft

The purpose of the rough draft is to write shit. The words roll off my tongue with ease. “Write shit.”

I don’t worry about grammar, spelling or punctuation. I don’t look back. I don’t stop to think. I don’t read what I wrote. If I do I’ll find myself catastrophizng.

So, I don’t.

I keep moving forward, one word in front of the other. The story pours from my finger tips onto the keyboard. All those bottled up words are set free. The story writes itself. I’m merely the narrator.

Next, I put it away without reading it and I don’t look at it for 24 hours. The rough draft is the most emotionally draining step of writing an essay. I’ll either meditate, go outdoors and become one with the earth or eat pizza. I do whatever my go-to is in the moment to recuperate and rejuvenate.

Editing and Revision

It’s time to read the rough draft and feel proud of the shit I wrote. I find myself wrestling with my feelings. I might even want to crumble my written piece into a ball and set it on fire or run over it with my pickup truck. These are normal and natural feelings for every writer. I acknowledge my feelings and move on.

Once I’ve finished reading it through, I now begin to go through each paragraph one by one and make corrections. This is also the opportunity to add details that show the reader what’s happening in my story. It’s time to turn cut and dry into a masterful essay.

It’s magical, actually.

I add super-simple fluff — or as I like to refer to it as, word vomit. The word vomit is what you’ll use to keep your readers engaged. I learned the term “word vomit” in college because no one can write a 20 page paper on whether or not America should still be considered a global power. It’s just not possible without adding a lot of word vomit.

Final Proof

Bam! Done!
Not really, though.

I’ve been staring at this thing for too long. Words are blending together and whole paragraphs are turning to mush.

I need a fresh set of eyes and at least another 24 hours of space.

I recommend finding another writer to partner up with. Send it off. Recover and rejuvenate, again.

After it’s been returned, I consider the proofer’s edit suggestions and make changes accordingly.

I then sit on it for another 24 hours before reading the finished product.

Finished Product

I’ve completed my essay. It typically takes me roughly five to ten days to complete the essay from outline to finished product, depending on word count. This includes intermediate periods of recuperation and rejuvenation.

Eat the entire pizza.

Writing Tools

My sketchbook of choice is Blick Artists Serving Artists notebook which I purchase directly from Blick in Iowa City. They’re cheap, durable and the proceeds go directly to supporting a Blick Associate Artist. LePen is my sketch utensil of choice. I’m specific about these tools because this is where the spark begins and I need to feel comfortable with the tools I’m using to work the story.

I use Scrivener as my writing software. I paid the $45 purchase price. It’s a worthy investment. Originally designed for novelists, Scrivener keeps all your research, notes, outlines and writing stored in one place. I’m even able to upload photo scans of my handwritten outline and notes, and it’s neatly organized by essay. I can access it from any computer.

Funding is a necessary tool for every type of creative. There are bills in the background that need to get paid as I write my masterful essay. I use Patreon as a consistent funding source. This way I can publish independently. A percentage of readers will connect with my work and want to support me in exchange for access to exclusive stuff from me on a more personal level, and because of their patronage I’m able to share my work publicly.

I use Kickstarter for larger projects that require immediate funding.

Coffee is fuel for the writing process. For the price of one fancy cafe coffee, I can drink at home for a week. I own the Mr. Coffee Optimal Brew 10-Cup Coffee Marker which I purchased at the thrift store for $12.

It sucks, especially for you overly- jolly extroverts but solitude is a must when writing. I have found that shutting the world out while I write has become an immeasurable tool. Whether it’s the middle of the night, in a closet or an outhouse somewhere, alone and distraction free is the best way to go.

Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus in Dictionary Form, hard copy- print edition.

Reporter based in Eastern Iowa. Pro- equality. Anti- AR15. My hobbies include emotional eating, petting cats, hibernating and farming.

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