Saturday, August 9, 2008

WORD: The Three-Step Essay

by Gabrielle Linnell

To write and sell an essay, first find a market. How about Mothers of Abnormal Children? MAC accepts essays from 500-1000 words, and prefers new writers to break in at the lower end of that number. So I'm writing a 500-word essay for mothers of abnormal children. How do I start?

Step Number One: Choose an odd personal event, hobby or habit.

I love fruit snacks. Seriously, I steal them from every family I babysit for. When my grandmother bought four boxes of Dora the Explorer snacks and Fruit Roll-Ups, it was very bad. I think I ate five or six roll-ups in a day and who knows how many Doras and Sponge Bobs.

Step Number Two: Link said odd personal thing to a universal problem, challenge or theme that is relevant to the magazine's readers.

My love of fruit snacks as a teenager most likely stems from a postponed childhood, because I was a precocious and gifted kid who spent all her time reading books and talking to grown-ups. Fruit snacks represent the abnormal child's desire to be a normal, Sponge Bob-chomping youngster, because all abnormal children crave normalcy in some way.

Step Number Three: Conclude with a personal discovery, observation or idea that binds the personal example with the universal theme.

I'm thankful for my abnormal childhood: it gives me great joy when I lie awake at night. I've had great experiences and won a developed mind in the process. But, when my hand goes out for miniature fruity Bootses and Swipers, it's nice to know I can have a little bit of normal kid life. If a little bit delayed.

Add a few more examples, quotes from famous people or indie rock stars, and make sure you self-deprecate at least five times. Ta-da! An essay fit for a king. Or at least, mothers of abnormal children.

Gabrielle Linnell writes in all her spare time and just got back from Barnes & Noble, where she spends her other spare time, pretending to be a normal child.

1 comment:

Susan McBride said...

Gabrielle, I'm smiling as I read this post, and not just because you've doled out some spot-on advice about targeting a particular market. It's the subject matter that caught my eye! I just had a conversation with my husband the other day about "what is normal?" I mean, IMHO, there really is no "normal." Because, if there is, who defines it? What's fun about being a novelist (and none of us creative folk are "normal," let's face it!) is writing about characters who feel like they don't fit in, and who ultimately realize that being authentic is what's important. You'd think we'd all learn that square pegs don't fit in round holes by the age of five, but it doesn't seem to work that way!