We are taught from a young age to read and write. By the time students enter the first grade, they are generally fully equipped with the knowledge to sing the alphabet and write some simple sentences containing one or two nouns. As a grade school student, I remember circling the sentences that were incorrect during our weekly tests. They emphasized a short, businesslike sentence structure and trained our young minds to analyze and copy instead of explore and create original forms. This poses an issue when we talk about “essays.” Until recently, when I thought about essays, I pictured my grade school self, begrudgingly completing whatever meaningless task my teacher assigned. Sure, I was learning how to “write,” but, I was not being taught to push the boundaries or learn to harvest my creativity. This continued throughout my entire public school education. By the time high school rolled around, I was highly skilled at creating work that was deemed adequate without pushing the limits. I knew how to find that sweet spot that would give me the passing grade I desired. It was a bare minimum amount of work that did not help me grow as a person or as a writer. In fact, teachers set the bar so low that I did not see why I would ever try harder. My essays were just fine, I was getting good grades, and I was fulfilling the writing assignments. But, that was the problem, I was successfully fulfilling my teacher’s writing task, which sounds pretty good in theory. Yet, I fulfilled someone else’s expectations. I had fulfilled someone else’s idea of what is acceptable.
I started to realize that an “essay” does not have to be regurgitated information that is fueled by a desire to please others. An essay can consist of personal experiences and answering questions that only you know the answers to. If someone is given the opportunity to write about something that they are passionate about in their own voice, then we might actually learn something about ourselves. An essay, I am finding, is whatever you want it to be. Traditionally, there are four types of essays. For example, narrative essays, descriptive essays, expository essays, and persuasive essays. Although, there are many variations of essays, these types of essays are the technical terms used for different writing styles. But, should writing be so tightly classified? For example, Michel de Montaigne is known for combining several different writing styles in a given text. It is refreshing to see an example of writing that has the ability to keep readers engaged while talking about formal subjects, such as environmental issues, etc. I can appreciate the blurring of the lines between writing styles that allows the reader to further open their mind regarding both complex and simple issues. Many writers do not think about using metaphors within traditional, informative essays. However, metaphors can help a reader visualize the main idea, and they can allow the reader to think about a subject in a different way, helping it to stick more permanently in their mind. Metaphors are also easy to digest. I can not tell you how many times I have read technically perfect essays with a superb quality of content and an intriguing ideology, yet I did not retain the information because of how it was presented to me.
As a college student that has taken several poetry courses, I have come to the understanding that poetry can help us all become better writers as poetry forces us to demolish our predisposed assumptions about writing and what it needs to look like to be taken seriously, or even viewed as competent. I admit that I struggled with the first assignment I was given in my college-level poetry class. The professor hardly said more than a few random words strung together that somehow was supposed to give me enough information to write a poem. At that point in my academic career, I had never been asked to write a poem, nor had I ever been given an assignment that was summed up in so questionable a sentence. In all honesty, it took me the entire semester to grasp the concept that I had to let go of every preconceived notion I would held about what my work needed to look like. I had to completely stop comparing my work to others or trying to emulate someone else who did not share the same life experiences as me. By the end of the semester, I knew what type of writing fit my personality. I had developed an interest in prose poems, partly because there were no rules or regulations (ironic, given that this was the very thing that had haunted me for 15 weeks). After handing in my portfolio that I stressed over all night, all week, all month, I felt accomplished that I had made my first attempt to find my voice and illustrate ideas that belonged solely to me. I was also more than a bit angry that I had not been given the opportunity to develop my own voice during the many years I had been attending school. I wondered how much I could have learned about myself if someone had showed me that it was okay if you do not want to hand in a writing assignment with a cookie-cutter format that you do not hold a connection with. I truly believe that if we are not given the freedom to write in a way that feels right to us, the quality of our work will suffer, along with the lack of creativity that comes after being told not to have any.
In addition to using poetic devices in essays such as metaphors and imagery, humor is a universal tool to help keep readers thoroughly engaged. Humor breaks down boundaries and expectations that people hold when thinking about what an essay should look like. Think of it this way, what would be more interesting to read: a blog essay about creative writing or a traditional MLA essay about creative writing? Most people would assume there may be more concrete information in the MLA essay, although they would find it to be more enjoyable and possibly inspirational to read the blog essay. Personally, I would have to agree due to the many years of being told one was better than the other. The thing is, the two essays may have identical information, yet one is deemed less adequate than the other. What if we could read about a serious subject, while also enjoying a laugh or two, or even more, being able to identify with the writing. I do not think it is inappropriate to blend the two writing worlds together.