Writing for publication is both exciting and completely nerve-wracking for most writers. Whether you want your audience simply to keep reading all the way to the end or to walk away with a monumental mindset shift, you'll need to address conflict, incorporate emotion, and provide meaning before you hit SUBMIT.
This is Part Two; read Part One here.
Essays are a singular beast and a specialized type of writing, AND they include all the same rhetorical elements that other stories include. We need a plot. We need characters. We (sometimes) need dialogue. We need symbolism, and metaphor, and rhythm. We need to progress and be slowed down. We need to know who the narrator is and why we should care about their story.
The biggest difference between fiction and essay writing? There's not as much distance between the story-telling and the teller of the story. Rather than a handicap, this emotional intimacy can be used to your advantage. You don't have to do the grueling work that a writer of a work of fiction does in convincing the reader to care. The reader is going to care because they know you're a real person with feelings and emotions just like them.
Emotional storytelling doesn't have to be a soup pot of emotions boiling over. You can tend the soup, control the ingredients, savor the time it takes to craft a really good meal. In writing, this comes about through details and pacing. Keep two words in mind: relevant and revelatory. In a well-crafted story,everything told is relevant and onlya few details can be revelatory. Finding the balance between these two is where the magic lies.
The irony is that it's challenging to have an emotionally wrought story unless you have gained some distance from the emotions of your story. What an essay asks of you is to select the relevant details, figure out which of them are revelatory, and then craft a narrative that relays all of that to the reader in a fresh, intimate manner. The hope here is that perspective comes with time and space. Keep revising (which involves reading your own work) and take long breaks in between drafts!
Ah, thecoup de grâce! If you've gotten this far, I'm guessing you're pretty serious about getting one or more of your essays published. You're probably a good writer and have all the technical stuff down pat. Unfortunately, you're not the only writer out there--published or not--who's in this boat. A wonderful way to differentiate your work, to elevate your work, is to include a succinctand supported Universal Meaning.
A Universal Meaning isn't that hard to come up with. Basically, you think of the larger implications of your essay's theme. For example, if you're writing about a year-long journey to lessening your dependence on plastic, then your universal meaning might speak to the fact that future generations are depending on everyone taking responsibility in this area.
While theoretically "bigger" than your topic & theme, a Universal Meaning isn't always a step "broader." In the above example, I could also end my essay talking about the personal satisfaction that can be gained by participating in a worldwide effort to do good and effect change. I've still stepped away from the direct topic and given my reader something "larger" to take away.
Remember the two keys to your Universal Meaning: succinct--we're talking one sentence!--and supported. You can't step so far away from your theme that there's no connection, and you certainly can't assert a new claim that hasn't been proven by what you've already written. The Universal Meaning is NOT a new paragraph, nor is it meant to pose a question that isn't already answered by the details of your story.
The best Universal Meaning is thought-provoking while also being (sort of) expected. An idea that pushes the reader to go a little deeper or inspires the reader to take action. Remember, this is the very last thing you get to say to your audience. Even if it's only one sentence, it's a sentence worth spending some time and thought on.
You can do all the research in the world and have a compelling experience to talk about, do a wonderful job incorporating story and emotion that leads the audience to a universally applicable meaning, and... never have your essay read. Why? Because you didn't spellcheck, or you've used the largest font Microsoft Word has to offer.
Listen: editors are people too. They have quirks and pet peeves. If you want an editor to publish your piece, then you need to figure out how to get--and stay--on their good side. Typically, you'll find submission guidelines on the sites where you're interested in submitting your pieces. FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES. Right down to the letter. You don't need to understand or even care about these guidelines; you just need to follow them!
Outside of guidelines, if an editor sees a lot of typos or if your essay doesn't have a clear theme, then you're probably out of luck. So read, re-read, have someone else read, and read aloud your piecebefore sending it to any publications! For smaller publications with more relaxed submission policies, try to include an introduction as to why you think you make a good fit. That personal touch will stand out among other essays that get sent with no explanation.
Also, if you're in discussions with an editor, follow her lead. Does she write long emails? Then, she's probably an email person, so maybe don't suggest hopping on the phone to hash out details. (<--Personal pet peeve! Ha ha.) If she seems really busy, offer to send her more than one completed piece at a time, and strive to get them inbefore the deadline. This is the person you're depending on to Publish. Your. Writing. I don't see the harm in doing what you can to make sure the editor likes you as much as she likes your writing.
What questions do you have about getting published? Are there specific topics you have in mind but don't know where to submit them? I'd love to chat more about your questions, and I'm always willing to be a second set of eyes!Email me anytime email@example.com
Happy Writing. :)
Lee Lee Thompson is the #ladyboss of The Perpetual You—a lifestyle brand for women living intentionally. An editor by trade, designer by heart, and mother by choice, she seeks intentional practices and a mindful mindset. Connect with her through Facebook, Instagram, or email. If ever you’re near Hamden, Connecticut, she welcomes you to stop by her front porch.
Portrait of the author by Joanna Fisher.
A love of reading is often discovered at a young age and is a tremendous asset for anyone; readers have an entire world available to them that non-readers don’t benefit from. They can learn skills, entertain themselves, glean wisdom from history, and find inspiration for self-improvement using nothing but a (free!) public library. Yet sometimes, though children can read, they see it more as required work than a privilege and miss out on the joy that the habit can bring.