I recently went through a box of ephemera from high school, including old essays. Each one I read started with a dictionary definition. According to Merriam-Webster, rigid (adj.) means inflexibly set in opinion, or strictly observed. I think an English teacher told me that one possible way to start an introduction is to define a key word, and this stuck with me enough that I applied the dictionary rule every time I began an essay, for the rest of high school.
Seeing these old papers made me wish that I had a formula to follow while writing now. How different writing would be if it were merely a methodical process, following a checklist! Instead, while working on a paper recently, ideas seemed to swirl around my brain as I was researching. I underlined sentences I found evocative. I knew there was something there, something I wanted to say—but at first, I wasn’t sure what, let alone how.
Reading up on academic essay structures helped, but ultimately I kept returning not to templates or rules, but to questions. What am I trying to say? What do I think? Why is this important? A thesis isn’t right or wrong; it’s either well-supported, or not. I’m not going to find my thesis statement in a dictionary. I have to figure out what I think, what I want to argue. What’s my point?
The most rigid rule I have now as I write and revise is to ask myself questions. I’ve learned that good writing requires the quality of being, as Merriam-Webster would say, inquisitive (n.): inclined to ask questions. Figuring out what I actually think, and then saying it, is the crux of writing—and though it’s hard to do, it can be rewarding.
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