10 Tips for Writing a Unique Essay
1. Develop a Strong Voice
The most important aspect of writing that I could stress to each and every reader is the necessity to cultivate an authentic voice. Far too commonly, compositions are held to extreme formality, as though a middle-schooler was trying to pass himself off as an adult, which tends to depreciate one's authority, not bolster it. Instead, it is crucial to form sentences that sound as though someone were speaking them. And not just speaking them in a monotone voice, like in a scientific paper, but as though a motivational speaker were reading off your essay. The more you practice this, the more apt you will be to successfully place pauses using commas, periods, and m-dashes. I would personally recommend speaking your essay as you write it. If it sounds a little too choppy for a casual conversation, change it.
2. Pre-Write Your Ideas
Most pieces you've read that sounded authentic and unique generally aren't impromptu. Whoever wrote those pleasantries likely thought not only about what they wanted to write, but how they wanted to describe their ideas their readers. Frankly, anyone can write about a truck and describe its appearance, but not everybody can provide a unique perspective of it's history. Finding your ability to characterize such a perspective is your obligation as a writer. Of course, this does mean that one needs to be either creative or educated on the particular topic at hand, which brings me to the next point...
3. Put in the Time
Emanating directly from my second point, it is increasingly necessary to put in an adequate amount of time to not only understand the topic you are writing about, but also how to cleverly articulate it's finer points. I learned in college that you could get by with a rushed paper, so long as the words sounded nice and the paper had a fluency to it. However I would suggest that this is inherently bad practice. What, after all, is the point of speaking exquisitely if you cannot say anything substantial? If you want to impress the careful reader, take the time to develop-- dare I say it-- an outline. Organize yourself. Do your research. Some of the best contemporary historians and war writers don't just have avid imaginations after all. They spend hours scouring journals and interviewing experts or individuals with first hand experience. We can learn something from this practice.
4. Read Voraciously
Human beings are great at mimicking others. In all reality, it's how we learn. It was Aristotle that suggested knowledge was non-unique; instead, it is predisposed to us, but must be uncovered through exploration. Skills such are writing fall into this category of 'things to be discovered', and why not observe those who we consider to have mastered the art? Go to the neighborhood bookstore and grab a few books. Pick up different genres and authors from different cultures. Steinbeck, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Rushdie, and J.K. Rowling all have plenty to teach an aspiring writer. And if you cannot muster the time to venture through some of the thicker texts, I would suggest reading journal articles and online blogs (shoutout to myself). The latter of which may not be ideal, but will slowly train your brain to narrate to itself in a manner that is coherent with writing.
Likewise, reading is perhaps our greatest learning tool. If your want to hold unique perspectives that others can find riveting, then the more you read the better! There are some great philosophic novels out their which present argument forms that most people never knew to entertain. For example, most medical ethics texts can delve deeply into issues, rather than their more shallow media-driven counterparts.
5. Don't Push It
Most people are very well aware of the term 'writers block', but most people don't consider the full implications of this sort of barricade. Of course, your writing suffers while you sit their meandering about superficial details and lose track of a more coherent narrative, but you also may be damaging your over-all writing ability. How so? Well, while not immediately obvious, I would suggest that good writing is constructed through fun writing. If you enjoy the activity, you will excel in it, and a preponderance for writing while neglecting such an interest is going to change your perspective on writing! Far too many students cultivate a hatred of composition because they force themselves to write when they don't truly want to-- often just prior to a paper's due date. And from the moment they adhere to such a method, they are forced to fight an uphill battle. This is only another reason not to procrastinate!
So be proactive with your habits. On one hand, be aware of when you wish to complete your writing, but be cautious to narrow your writing sessions to those periods of time you feel creative and relaxed! If you don't like your writing, it will be apparent and contagious to your readers.
6. Give Yourself External and Internal Motivation
While it is certainly beneficial and perhaps necessary to create an internallized appreciation for reading and writing, I think it's okay to play the brain-association game. By this, I mean that you need to keep a positive connotation with writing, and doing so may, in turn, require a little external motivation. Sometimes, a student needs to promise himself a break or, well, a cookie in order to maintain a decent attitude.
We must admit to ourselves that we sometimes don't feel like writing, but we must still write. So why not make it as pleasant of an experience as possible? Does it help to write outside, with a glass of wine, or in a cafe? If so, don't be afraid to use these activities to your benefit. The best writers, undoubtably, are the happy writers!
7. Focus on Your Writing - Control your environment
However, be careful not to give yourself a distraction. Like learning any lesson or practicing any skill, the more intensely you focus on that activity, the more quickly your performance will develop into something to be proud of. I often find that my best writing is done in a cafe, however as soon as an interesting conversation begins within earshot, I become entranced on discovering what those other individuals find so interesting about their own lives, and my writing transforms from a multi-colored pallet to a charcoal drawing. In order to alleviate this issue, I needed to eliminate those exterior sources of sense-data. Earphones worked, as did facing a window and working alone. Explore what allows to focus, and if you find that you cannot devote your entire effort to your writing, then perhaps its time to stand up and do something else (see #5)
8. Seek a Proof-reader
This goes hand-in-hand with reading other pieces from other authors. While a another individual can obviously provide corrections to grammar and syntax that you would otherwise miss, they can also give you their perspective on the flow of your writing, your word choice, and the depth of your analysis. Often, a writer will pose an argument while emitting a key premise, as that premise is seemingly 'understood' to the writer, but perhaps not the reader. I encounter this often when reading text analyses. Writers will explain what each character represents without attributing those characterizations to their specific actions, assuming that I am overtly familiar with each character. There is value in being explicit in such cases. Likewise, many individuals caught in the trap of covering a certain length have mastered the art of paraphrasing. They will effectively make a point, but then proceed to reiterate that point two to three more times, but with different vocabulary. Don't do this. Ever. Have someone specifically look for this sort of writing deficit.
And of course, a proof reader can advise your on the effectiveness of your voice (step 1), as well as suggest changes you may not have considered (maybe they've read more Dostoevsky than you). But above all, they can also give you some encouragement.
9. Practice & Write Creatively!
Above all else, the act of writing itself is analogous to practicing any other sport. Perfect practice makes perfect, so make sure to follow the above steps as you venture out into your writing career! In other words, be conscientious of becoming that typical student who writes haphazardly and shallowly writes about something they don't like at a time he or she does not desire. It's a slippery slope.
And the best method for developing a positive perspective on writing is to write what you want to write! Don't just stick to your assigned papers. Find something you're passionate about and get all of your thoughts about that topic down on paper (or in a word document or online hub)! Not only can this clarify your knowledge on a particular subject, I've often found myself using essays that I had previously written for fun in real-life situations. It could be a way to pay it forward to yourself!
10. Share Your Words With Others!
You inevitably benefit from reading the words of others. That's why we pursue education, after all. But does that information belong to you? I would argue that it does not. It belongs to the intellectual community of those who wish to better the word with their own experiences and observations. As a result, there is an obligation, in my mind, to use such information as a stepping stone to further the cause. If you can paint a new painting, hang it up for others to see! Perhaps they'll be inspired! Perhaps you will be inspired.