essay writing

Tips for developing essay writing ideas

Around here, we’re usually so focused on fiction, poetry, and journaling that we often forget about another form of creative writing: the essay.

The first essay that captured my attention and got me interested in essay writing was Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” which was also my first introduction to satire:

Written and published anonymously in 1729, the essay suggested that impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. This satirical hyperbole mocked heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as Irish policy in general. (Source)

“A Modest Proposal” is a harsh piece of writing, but it’s both creative and socially conscious. Essays can also be academic, personal, or analytic. In terms of subject matter, essays can run the gamut. And while essays are often associated with academia because they are often assigned by schoolteachers and professors, plenty of writers have eked out careers publishing essays on a wide range of topics.

Today, we’ll focus on developing essay writing ideas, but first let’s look at a few types of essays.

What is an Essay?




The word essay comes from the French word essayer, which means “to try” or “to attempt.” An essay is a short format of writing, which usually presents an author’s personal point of view and can include criticism, arguments, observations, recollections, and reflections around a focused topic. Usually written in prose, the essay falls somewhere between an article and a short story.

According to Wikipedia there are three branches of essay writing:

Personal and autobiographical essays: These use “fragments of reflective autobiography” to “look at the world through the keyhole of anecdote and description.”

Objective and factual: In these essays, the authors “do not speak directly of themselves, but turn their attention outward to some literary or scientific or political theme.”

Abstract-universal: These essays “make the best … of all the three worlds in which it is possible for the essay to exist.” This type is also known as Giraffe Style Writing.

So, how does one come up with essay writing ideas? One place to start is by thinking about the type of essay you want to write.

Types of Creative Essays

Because essays are so broad and can range from academic or analytic to highly personal, we can further place various types of essays in an unlimited number of categories. Let’s look at a few options in essay writing that we can explore:

Narrative Essay: Narrative essays are similar to short stories except they are nonfiction and usually relate to a core topic or theme. Such an essay usually makes a point using story as an example. These are excellent essays for journal keepers and short fiction writers.

Descriptive Essay: A descriptive essay avoids the author’s personal thoughts and feelings and focuses on the who, what, where, when, why, and how. These essays are ideal for anyone who likes to examine a subject from every angle and for writers who enjoy composing descriptive prose.

Personal Essay: A personal essay relates an author’s thoughts or feelings on any given subject. Subject matter can range from food, health, and parenting to political or philosophical beliefs. The writer’s personal experiences may be the basis for such an essay; however, personal experiences may be absent.

Reflective Essay: A reflective essay is a stand-alone piece, which is usually intended for publication. This is an essay about a personal experience, which is intertwined with thoughts (reflections) on it.

Response Essay: A response essay is similar to a personal essay in that it relates the author’s thoughts and feelings, except it speaks specifically about the author’s reaction to something; books, movies, travels, and other events and experiences are all fair game.

Argumentative of Persuasive Essay: These essays present the author’s position on an issue and apply logic, reason, and often, statistics and research, to back up the author’s opinions. Persuasive essays are designed to convince readers to do something or see some issue from a certain perspective.

This is just a small sample of the various types of creative essays you might write. You may find that just by reviewing the different types of essays, something clicks and you’re struck with inspiration. However, you may need to look to your passions and interests to generate essay writing ideas; you may need to start with a topic.

Essay Writing Ideas: Choosing a Topic

In the world of essays, there are unlimited topics that you can explore. Here are a few good strategies for selecting a topic if you’re looking for essay writing ideas:

  1. What are you most passionate about? What gets your blood boiling or makes you want to do a happy dance? Write an essay about it.
  2. What do you know a lot about? It could be something you studied in school or it could be career-related. Your knowledge base provides great fodder for essay writing.
  3. What do you want to learn more about? You can always conduct research for an essay, and if there’s some subject you’d like to learn about, then conducting that research for an essay is a great way to get started.

Let’s say you’re writing a science fiction novel and want to learn more about our solar system so you can depict space travel. You could write a descriptive essay of our solar system and start the project by writing a long list of questions to which you need the answers in order to get started.

Tips for Publishing Essays

Many publications accept essay submissions. You can write an essay for a specific publication or you can write an essay and find a publication for it later. Be sure to check the publications’ submission guidelines and follow them accordingly. For example, some publications only take academic or analytic essays; others may be looking for essays that deal with specific subject matter. In traditional publishing, you might find essay collections difficult to break into. You usually need a few publication credits (clips) or expertise in a field before landing a publishing deal in this form.

If you’re a prolific essay writer, you can always self-publish your essays on your website or through any of the many self-publishing avenues available.

Do You Write Essays?

Essay writing is a broad field for writers to explore. Some of the greatest artists, thinkers, and leaders have been essayists and contributed their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives to the greater culture through the written word.

Have you ever written an essay that wasn’t assigned? What subject matter do you like to explore in essays? Where do you find essay writing ideas? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

Adventures in Writing The Complete Collection

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