Robert Fulford’s recent essays for the National Post may be found at:

The Robert Fulford Homepage has an extensive array of columns written for the National Post and the Globe & Mail:

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.  Mr. 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.

Dear Laura Smith:

Everyone deals with these things differently. I'll just tell you my method of preparing an essay, so that you can use whatever seems valuable to you.

  1. Assemble 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 essay, 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.

  2. Write 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.

  3. Enter all those notes in the same computer document.

  4. Make a copy of the document. If your main document is called Tokyo , 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.

  5. Now start working with your main document, Tokyo . Look for points you think are essential to include, also for points that seem striking, graphic, or funny.

    note: 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.

    note: 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.

  6. Much 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 ahead.

  7. As 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.


Robert Fulford