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How do I write an essay?

Choire Sicha

This is not only the best way to write an essay, it is actually literally the only way. (In my experience. Mileage, it varies.)

1. You have to be either driving, on the subway, in the shower or just woken up from a deep sleep.

2. That is when you will have a little nugget of an idea.

3. You will *immediately* stop what you are doing and write that nugget down, or leave yourself a voicemail, or email yourself. (I did this twice tonight; I pulled over as I was driving and emailed myself.)

4. Later, when you are sitting at a typing machine or, I suppose, with a pen and paper (I have a friend who writes with pens! It’s crazy!), you will address your nugget, which you will not have forgotten, because of step 3.

5. That nugget is the central idea that you want to communicate either up-front or at the end of what you are writing. (You should know which it is: your nugget may be a strong starting point, or it’s a central conceit that you must provide some background to get to, or it’s a surprise that comes at the end of a tale you’re telling.)

6. You will start writing in a way that you find most conducive. (For me: with very loud music on, and crackers or other snacks at the side of my laptop, with most of the room dark, near a place where I can run out frequently and smoke and think.)

7. You will draw out the ideas around your nugget, do some research, do some reading on the topic, go down some rabbitholes, see who else has written on this, and learn some new things.

8. Write until it’s done.

9. Set it aside. (Interval: two minutes to two days.)

10A. Read for content. (Have you explained what you need to explain to a stranger?)

10B. Read for facts and spelling and grammar.

10C. Read for tone. (Do you sound like you? Are you writing in the way that you uniquely communicate? Have you chosen the right words? Are there lazy words hiding in there? Are there lazy sentences?)

11. Destroy everything in it that bores you.

12. Revise and correct.

13. Depending on its destination, now you will either: give it to an editor; publish it online immediately, or put it in the preferred school or professional format and turn it in.

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