Advice for Writing Engaging Essays on Both High School and College/AP Levels
As soon as we start writing, we're told all sorts of rules on the do's and don'ts of writing.
The problem is, a lot of those rules are really limiting, especially if you're just a kid trying to write a story about superheroes or magic and dragons. Being told exactly how you should write and what is the most interesting way to do things means there's a clear way not to do things—except literature is subjective! Different people like different stories and different writers not just because of the stories they represent but because of writing style.
But as kids, the style we're forced to adopt is one of a lackluster essay format, meant to be first and foremost informative and to-the-point, tossing creativity to the side; that's really crushing to learn as a kid.
However, in learning to write more casually and conversationally and expanding my knowledge of writing fiction, my writing improved all around. I have always told my writing is good, and that I write solid essays, and though most the time I hardly know what I'm doing, it's because I learned how to reflect confidence in my writing.
So to start my list of tips:
1. Be confident.
Writing isn't always easy, especially if you're writing for school and forced to talk about a topic you don't care for. The first thing you need to do is make sure you know exactly what you're saying, so even if you're rambling in your essay, your tangents are informed tangents. The worst thing is reading an essay where you can tell the writer didn't know what they were talking about. It's clearly lazy and thrown together. And this applies to your sources too! You don't need long quotations to fill space, instead use short quotes with deep, thorough analysis. That way, you prove you know what you're talking about, proving you're sure of yourself and your writing.
Connecting with your audience is essential no matter what you're writing, whether it's an essay or a novel. You don't need to try to appeal to everyone, you need to appeal to whoever would be reading the subject matter. Also, put yourself in your writing. In my experience, the guidelines of writing taught by schools promote really impersonal pieces. Ignore those. Don't give some huge anecdote and share your whole life story, but represent in causal ways why the subject or your stance matters. Include small asides, make it clear you think what a character is doing or did is impractical or why it's proof for your thesis. Your audience is smart enough to already know these things, to acknowledge what those asides may be, but by including brief ones, you make your writing more exciting; it's about being engaging, not unprofessional.
3. Write what you think.
Stream of consciousness writing is a style revolving around (usually fiction) works being written in the same lines the author came to the conclusions. Instead of being incredibly organized and categorized paragraphs, this writing style flows organically; it moves from argument to point to proof to analysis to counterpoint to rebuttal naturally. It bolsters your writing and the confidence reflected because it shows more clearly why you think what you do. Each claim is further supported and arguments become increasingly emphatic and passionate. This tip is incredibly important to me because it's what made writing fun. Writing as you think means that you have points you wholeheartedly believe in, and it's reflected in reading the work.
And the obvious:
This might seem contradictory because the previous point is very close to promoting impulsive writing. But brainstorming is essential! If you're analyzing another work for your essay or piece, talk to others about what they think! Write your ideas down and organize them. This doesn't mean that you have to have the whole essay planned to the last detail by the time you go to write it, but it means you'll be able to write with all your points already in mind. That's what the importance of outlining is, to reaffirm that you know what you'll say, even if you don't have every sentence queued up and ready to be plugged into an essay format.