Essay Gold

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

I just won an essay contest where the prize was a manuscript critique from a literary agent!

Now, I know that sounds a little like bragging, but hold on, because I’m bringing up this essay for a very good reason (besides the bragging bit). To wit: essays can be a good source of winnings, whether the winnings are writing-related perks or cold, hard cash. All you need to do is learn how to write an essay well. Easy-peasy, right?

Not exactly. But I’ll share with you a couple of my essay-writing tricks of the trade and see if that makes it just a tad easier-peasier.

First, I always read a handful of essays in my targeted market (or past winners’ essays if it’s a contest). That gives me a feel for the editors’ style or the judges’ likes. I don’t drastically change my style, but I may adjust my tone for a better fit.

Next, I take a look at the theme or the topic and consider what I really want to say. Because if I just start writing about a topic, I may begin with a fine idea which takes me to another fine idea and look! There’s another wonderful idea I want to add. Which is swell and all, except that one can easily get carried away with those ramblings, and before one knows it, one is writing like…well, like this.

Which is not very swell at all. That’s why I have a note card above my desk with these words: WHAT do you want to say?

I wish I could remember where I got that little nougat of advice. I owe that writer a bundle. Because I’ve never written an essay where I didn’t stop and look up at that card and think, “Hmmm…am I saying what I want to say?”

It’s a simple concept that gets simpler with practice. Ask yourself if you’re supporting your main idea(s). Do you wind up making the point(s) you started with or have you wandered willy-nilly and made a completely different point—or ten points?

Take this post. I wanted to make the point that essay-writing can be a profitable opportunity for you, if you follow a couple easy-peasy tips to increase your odds of success. And honestly, I think I nailed it.

(Find out more about Cathy's writing world here.)


Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Good essay, Cathy! I think the "what are you trying to say" idea is a great one for all kinds of writing, even fiction. I do that with flash - it helps when trimming the word count. :)

Unknown said...

Congrats, Cathy!
I like writing essays, too. A great way to express oneself and to share an experience or reflection. Way to go!

Cathy C. Hall said...

Thanks, y'all! And yes, Madeline, I use it for fiction as well. I look at each chapter of a novel and check that I've moved the story along and said what I wanted to say to get the story moving!

BECKY said...

Oh,Cathy C....Before I stopped here, I read your winning essay and it was scathingly brilliant. Seriously, I still have the goose-bumps that sprung up the minute I began to read it. Congrats! The prize couldn't go to a nicer gal!

sally said...

This is so hard for me--focusing instead of rambling. Nice reminder. And lovely winning essay. I'm glad I found the link on your blog.

Donna Volkenannt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donna Volkenannt said...

Hi Cathy,
Here's what I want to say: Your winning essay and your essay here are perfect.
I wrote a similar comment earlier but had a typo--I'm so imperfect.
Donna V.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Aw, thanks, y'all. And Donna, I strive to channel my inner Mary Poppins...practically perfect in every way. Every one of you have your own inner MP!:-)

Linda O'Connell said...

Cathy, great advice. I sometimes ramble. I have to remind myself to CUT it out!

Lynn said...

Thanks for the tips!

Janet Smart said...

Thanks for the advice, Cathy.

essay writing tips said...

Congrats Cathy!
Thanks for sharing the knowledge with us, this is gonna help students a lot.

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