You must not come lightly to the blank page.
– Stephen King
It began with a blinking cursor, a blank Microsoft Word file, an empty spiral notebook, and the desire to simply do better. A touch of arrogance, however, remained the first few weeks of my Modern Familiar Essay course as I met my fellow students – undergraduate and graduate alike – and adjusted my thoughts about writing. Newspaper articles, press releases, and scholarly research papers have flowed from my fingers for years. Nonfiction and all-too-confessional essays littered my blog. “What type of essay-writing is considered both modern and familiar?” I thought to myself on more than one occasion, more often outside class than during. Paging through the textbooks and perusing the handouts provided a better understanding, but the sustaining nuggets of knowledge would come later.
Nonfiction essays and memoirs have always topped my preferred forms of recreational reading. Not until Modern Familiar Essay did I examine closely what creates an intricate and enjoyable puzzle of dialogue and description. The quote before the essay is known as the epigraph. That’s easy to write. What comes after the epigraph, however, takes time to craft and years to perfect. A keen eye now sees emails differently, sees press releases differently, and, perhaps most selfish, sees my “own” writing differently.
What matters now are clear, creative descriptions that pack a punch and leave the reader wanting more. What matters now is snappy dialogue. What matters now is listening to the male voice of my professor that urges, “Edit, edit, and edit again. Add some polish. You can do better.”
My work was often a one-draft pony, spilled and spread about the page for all to see. A care and concern exists now that, I’m embarrassed to admit, wasn’t there before. One-push publishing on the World Wide Web created a work ethic where quantity mattered more than quality. But not anymore. The need to write has not waned or waivered; the desire to write better has. I share my sentiments with those of English novelist W. Somerset Maugham: “We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to.” Modern Familiar Essay has not created a writer hungrier to write more; it created a writer hungrier to do better.
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