As an author of children’s fiction, and a Masters student, I have to write creatively, as well as formally in essays *cue meltdown.*
Now, I absolutely hate writing essays because I can never get a formal voice going, and I often repeat myself and word vomit all over the page (yes, that is a thing).
Children’s fiction, however, comes out of me wrapped in a bow (although it takes me a while to think up ideas sometimes, when I’ve got one I can run with it.)
So how do I manage to bridge the gap when asked to write essays for my course? Well… the truth is I find it incredibly difficult to channel my inner English Lit girl who quotes amazing works, and actually I resemble something along the lines of my teenage characters. I usually give up too (and if you know me, I’m no quitter) and spend my day procrastinating, normally drowning in rooibos tea to make up for how I feel.
New year new me (and all that rubbish) so here I am, fighting fit, ready to take on the essay which I’ve had planned for months (with a fresh pot of tea for support.)
So here is how I plan on defeating it: (if you’re in a similar situation, I hope it helps)
Step 1: Plan plan plan…
I’m not a big planner when it comes to my creative work, I usually just write and see where I end up. But, when it comes to essays, that isn’t an option. Otherwise it just ends in waffle (and not the tasty kind.)
I start off by structuring the essay and working out how it is going to flow, and deciding which points link best. (This takes a couple of days in itself so almost counts as procrastination.)
I think of it like my novel. The book has to flow and make sense to the reader; there can be no room for misinterpretation. This is the same for my essay.
Start by plotting a brief structure, including an introduction, first point, second point, third point, and then conclusion. (Obviously you can tailor this to however many points you have.)
One of the best things I do (or try to do) is make a tick list of the mark scheme and definite things you have to include. Once you’ve finished the essay you can look back on it and see if there’s anything you’ve missed.
Step 2: Bulk it out. (P)
So you’ve got your plan, and now you’re ready to put points onto paper and give yourself proper words to work with.
Start by writing out all your points onto separate pieces of paper, that way you can move them and change the order to get the most formulaic structure. You only need to begin with bullet points.
Once you know your points, and after researching enough to build them up, seeing them on paper makes it easier to put the pieces of the jigsaw together.
Step 3: Get back up. (E)
You’ve got your point, now you need to back it up with evidence. Get out your books (read them) and pick out some quotes that support what you’re trying to say. Search the internet for journals, articles, anything. The more varied the support, the better the grade (hopefully.)
Don’t just pick things because you think they kind of link, pick them because they support your point fully. If you find any that oppose your point, pick them out too. It’s always good to be able to have a counter argument.
Step 4: Why? (E)
Explain to the reader (or the marker) why this quote or research in particular helps to strengthen your argument. What does it say that helps? What specifically is it doing to the point you’re making?
If you can’t explain this, you might need a stronger quote.
Step 5: Link it up. (L)
Connect the point to the next point you’re making/a counter argument. Use further evidence, just be careful not to repeat yourself. Also this is a good chance to make sure you’re properly answering the question in each point. It doesn’t have to be explicit, but make sure you’ve done what you set out to. Conclude in your last paragraph and go back to your introduction. The essay may have changed slightly since you started it so check it all fits together.
Step 5: Reread.
Just like when writing creatively, one of the most helpful things I find is rereading the work aloud. This shows you if there are any jarring bits for the reader, and whether the piece flows well. Make sure you’ve done what you set out to do and argued or explained all the points you’ve made with enough evidence.
By using the PEEL paragraphs you’ll be able to incorporate all aspects of the point to recoup the most marks. Obviously, all essays are different and all have different mark schemes so do take this with a pinch of salt. I’m aware this might work for one, and not another. But hopefully you can take the main ideas away from it, even if it’s just with planning.
One of my major faults is that I try and write too eloquently in essays, so much that it doesn’t actually make sense. Don’t do this. The best thing to do is to write the points out (even just in bullet points), finish the essay steps and then come back to look at wording in a draft where you can flesh it all out.
Getting words on the page is always the hardest part so by drafting it out, in a more relaxed way like this, can really help to take the pressure off. It also allows for lots of breaks in between points to refill your tea.
I hope you find this helpful, and if you have any top tips to help me write my essay, or that you think might help others, post them below.
Now, back to the essay…