Here’s a strong essay that demonstrates how to clearly relate details in a way that is orderly but still compelling. Note how each paragraph has a single purpose, and how the author breaks the essay into smaller pieces to make it easier to follow and to read.
(Image via allthingsliberty.com)
Here’s a great example of a personal essay that captures the speaker’s personality and mood – what we usually call voice – not by ornate language but by careful selection of facts and clear description. This is the best way to do it.
(Image via The American Conservative)
Here's an essay about collaboration between songwriters. You don't have to be a musician to learn from this detailed account of the relationship between Chris Collingwood and the late Adam Schlesinger. Great material here about how craft and art differ more by name than by action, how listening that becomes analysis is probably the best education, and how much there is to know as a creator besides your own perspective.
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The value of dissonance as the engine of great ideas is at the heart of how I work, and of how I think about creativity. To limit myself to a few paragraphs on it here is maddening.
But I'll try.
A key aspect of creativity is the mixing of things that we do not typically associate. Serial murderer Hannibal Lecter is a brilliant physician of nuanced intellect. Steve Jobs obsessed over the esthetics of working with business machines. Somebody at Reese's mixed peanut butter with chocolate. And so it goes.
In this essay, Kyle Smith gives us Seinfeld & David as the Lennon & McCartney of comedy. His analog is built more on our perception of these individuals than a hard examination of who they really are, but in this context that's fine. Basically, he says that Seinfeld likes whimsy and David is obsessed with irritation -- the serious-and-silly mix that so many find in Lennon & McCartney's best songs.
(Fun story: McCartney is said to have written the lyric, "I have to...
"A heart-stopping line." That's the thought here about one of the greatest, if not the absolute greatest, couplet in pop music. This essay by Dylan Jones at Literary Hub considers Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" and the line And I need you more than want you / And I want you for all time. His thoughts on how such great language comes out of us are worth the read.
(Image via Literaryhub.com)
One of the greatest essayists we have is Gay Talese. His piece, "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold," established the modern style for the celebrity profile when he wrote it in 1965-6. It's a delight, and a hallmark example of "New Journalism," a style we take for granted but one that was radical at the time: the use of novelistic techniques to tell non-fiction stories.
Most of what you've read has been "New Journalism," so this essay won't feel radical to you. But in 1966 it was pretty far out there, and it's not at all an overstatement to say that journalism itself would never be the same -- never as dull and dry, and, for better and for worse, never as purposefully objective as it had been.
As a writer, I find it useful to understand the history of styles, genres, and forms. (I assign this piece in my creative writing class.) So from an academic perspective, it matters.
But that's not why we read, not really.
Talese is a treasure, as are the other creators of this form such as...
Here's a great article from Robbie Fulks. Robbie's a friend of mine and a singer-songwriter of note. (I'd mention the Grammy nod, but I don't think that's his main priority.) He writes essays, too, and when he does, they are typically stunning displays of analytical thinking and educated criticism full of wit and ideas.
If that's not lavish praise, there's no such thing.
(Image via talkhouse.com)