Everyone has been gifted a unique experience but not everyone cultivates what they think about it. It’s not that you have nothing to write about, it’s that the skill of forming an opinion about your observations is undeveloped.
One of the best things I’ve learned about how to write was how to identify what I believe. My Second City class focused on writing satire and you cannot write satire without forming an opinion. With these techniques I was able to identify easily what I could write about and have since applied it to essay writing.
Below I’ve documented the beginning process of one of the first pieces of satire I wrote about women in technology.
List all the things that you have experienced, observed, or heard within the past week. Don’t overthink this step, write down everything no matter how inconsequential you believe it is. This will give you insight into what’s top of mind for you that week.
If you’re having trouble, start here: what makes you angry, uncomfortable, or frustrated? It doesn’t have to be something dramatic like global warming. It can be small, like piles of spiders. Piles of spiders are disgusting. It also doesn’t have to be anger but satire is the comedy of outrage so you start there.
This particular week I was reading a lot about meritocracy, women in technology, and the reasons people gave for why there weren’t enough women in tech. My first notes about topics to target:
What makes me mad: treatment of women online + Social justice warriors + Gamergate + Feminist the label + Tone policing + Men's rights + Mansplaining feminism + Victim blaming + Act like a man to be treated with respect + It's better to leave + Anonymous abusers + Troll culture + Hacking + microaggressions + beta males + #notallmen
My first list of topics was just that: a list of topics. I still didn’t have a good idea of what my stance was. From here, you use a technique called clustering. You focus on one of these things and then write another list expanding your thoughts about that specific topic. I chose men’s rights from the previous list.
+ obliviousness to privilege + assertion that equality is there + women should work harder then + men are default + crediting themselves for originally female-dominated professions (programming) + women have gone too far + treating women equally is "lowering the standards" + what about me? in response to a victim
Still, the list was too general and so I clustered one more time from the third line:
+ pineline issue + meritocracy + not leaning in + women aren't interested + being encouraged out of tech + women aren't good at things like programming + women aren't being good mentors + jobs are mostly male centric cultures + no good mentors + women live different lives + women are sensitive
From this, my thesis became clearer. The underlying topic of my piece was: the culture in STEM isn’t condusive to women staying but some people believe it’s mostly their fault.
You can cluster as many times as desired until your opinion becomes clearer.
From here writing for satire splits from essay writing because of the use of exaggeration. Essay writing is more subdued and typically requires further study. Regardless, these techniques helped me kick-start my practice.
Every essayist must be opinionated and all writing is documentation. No one needs to hear, travel more, spend time away from work, and quit the job you hate. Give more credit to your brain. It’s filled with interesting things.
Rather wrong than irresolute.