Recently, Laura Smith, grade 12 student at ARHS, e-mailed several
professional writers for their advice on how to write an essay. One of
them wrote back, not just with a few kind words of encouragement, but with
real interest in the request, almost as if how we write was more than just
a business of completing tasks; almost as if how we write had something to
do with who we are. That person was Robert Fulford.
writes columns twice a week for the National
Post. In these columns he is not afraid to match his intelligence and
erudition to a tone of moral responsibility. We are grateful to Laura’s
persistence in courting the assistance of good writers and thankful for
Mr. Fulford’s permission to reprint his
advice in our magazine.
in a computer document a lot of facts, quotes, etc. that are related
to the subject and to you. Maybe two or three essays off the web that
might stimulate you or provide a quote. Sometimes I assemble 15 or so
pages, sometimes 6, occasionally as many as 25. This is a personal
so you must appear in it somewhere, but at
the same time you must not dominate it. You are taking us through your
personal reactions to the theme, but it's the theme that will really
matter and the theme that will stay with us.
anywhere, on a pad or wherever, your thoughts on this
subject,completely at random. Don't censor your thoughts, get all of
them down as they come to you. If some seem silly or fatuous, keep
them for now. No one
can sneak into your office, steal them, and
laugh at them. At this stage some of them will certainly be terrible,
but nobody except you will ever know.
- Enter all those notes in the same
- Make a copy of the
document. If your main document is called
, thencall this one Tokyo-re, the "re"
standing for research. Then you willalways have, till the whole
process ends, the original research document complete. You may well
erase a passage of your notes while working in your main document,
then decide you were wrong to do that. If so, it will bewaiting for
you in Tokyo-re.
- Now start working
with your main document,
. Look for points you think are essential to
include, also for points that seem striking, graphic, or funny.
Here is a key rule: you don't have to begin at the
beginning. Perhaps, as you survey all your notes, you will think: that
would make a good ending. Write it as an ending. Maybe it will
eventually be the real ending. Or maybe you'll just learn what the
ending should not be. In any case, write it.
Now ask yourself: is there one part of this essay that I have truly
under my control in my mind and on the screen--one little scene,
perhaps, or one description, or one thought. The answer will be Yes,
of course, because by now you've been thinking about this material and
it's rattling around inyour brain. Write one or two or three passages
that you think may be in the final document.
of what you have now may be eventually discarded, but you have
something to play with, which is ten thousand times better than a
blank screen. By now I bet you'll have some idea how to begin. Plunge
soon as you get something that feels roughly like an essay, print it
out, set it aside for a few hours, then
edit it. You'll now see a lot of places you can
improve it. Go through this process (usually I do it three or four
times) until you have an essay you consider your best work.