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How to start an essay

Updated on September 10, 2015
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Erin Shelby is passionate about living a lifestyle that aims for financial freedom. She writes about personal finance and other topics.


Before you can write an essay, there’s one thing you must do: decide on a topic. For many writers, this can be the most challenging part of the process. When given complete creative freedom, narrowing down the options can be challenging. How can you start your essay when you don’t know what to write about? Try these strategies for tackling a topic.

Set a Deadline for Yourself

If you’re a perfectionist, you may be waiting for the perfect idea. If this is the case and none of your ideas seem good enough, you’ll need to settle on something – anything – to start the writing process. Set a deadline for yourself when you must have committed to an idea. At that point, you can begin writing towards that topic, and if you discover an even better topic as you write, you can change topics, time-permitting. But nothing can be accomplished unless you set a deadline for yourself to start.

Read Often

If you struggle with the process of writing or coming up with ideas, ask yourself how often you read. Reading inspires creativity and provides a model of how others write. Do you want to be a writer who tells lots of personal stories using a first-person perspective, or do you prefer a formal style with a third-person point-of-view? The authors you read, living or deceased, can serve as your mentors.

Keep a Journal

An idea may come to you right before you go to sleep or right as you are waking up. Having a notebook and pen at the ready can capture your creativity at a moment’s notice.

Try a Quick List

To create a paper topic, try writing a quick list of potential ideas. Give yourself two minutes to write all the possible words that connected to a topic. Don’t judge the ideas that come to mind – just write them down as quickly as possible. Then, after the two minutes have passed, think deeper about each word and how it could be used to construct an essay.

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