BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

How to Write an Essay

By Sonya Huber

  1. That thing that makes your guts turn queasy, the thing you did, the thing you saw… you know what I mean. The thing that swims in front of your eyes before you’re even awake, the face of the haunter, the hurricane. Scream at it with the alphabet until it becomes a piece of toast or at least a grave, anything with edges. Make a list of all the people with that same piece of toast and feel less alone.
  2. Procrastinate on a major serious to-do until the procrastination gets a pedigree and health insurance, turns from Pinocchio into a real boy. Take your bullshit seriously, unless you’re one of those people who was born doing that. In that case, take your bullshit out back and shoot it in the head.
  3. Smell smoke—or some weird almost-smell, cardamom mixed with musty stairwell, and put off picking up your kid from daycare in order to find that smell. Catch it and nail it to a piece of plywood and then describe your failure and how glad you are that you failed.
  4. Stop capitalism for a moment by being kind to yourself and to others. See a human in the turn of a hand, the flick of a gesture. Then try to sell that little portrait on the sidewalk. Have a fight with the person you painted who thinks you made them look mean.
  5. Get really good at bonding with strangers as your honesty with friends and family atrophies into a voracious gnarled beast who breathes the smoke of dirty laundry and wants only more and more material.
  6. Write an essay to make people fall in love with your brilliance but then have the essay turn out to be about your endless need for praise and your intellectual insecurity.
  7. Pick a fight with a dead person. Lose.
  8. Pick a fight with a leader of the un-free world and destroy.
  9. Become skilled at writing 3000-word personal ads in which you portray yourself as a supremely sensitive and reflective person able to see nuance and subtle conflict in the smallest scene. In real life, become even more of a conflict-avoidant mess of anxieties.
  10. Love bricks. Love people. Love the decapitated wooden head of a decoy duck. Let language welcome you home when home has been a hard idea. Let words locate the people who are home to you.
  11. Freak out about endings and the even number “10” and resist the urge to end cute, end with a bow, blow up the ending. Wreck it good with a side (chopped, smothered) of restraining order. End on a noun, end on the nametag from Waffle House.
  12. Throw in some asterisks and numbered lists and a definition from the Oxford English Dictionary (the cocaine of essayists) and then roll this all up into a bottle, pour gasoline in it, and light it on fire … but only on the page because, come on, the most dangerous thing you’ve done besides grab a microphone is press command-P.
  13. Be soft. Be shattered.
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    Sonya Huber is the author of five books, including Opa Nobody, Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir, and the new essay collection Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System. She teaches at Fairfield University, where she directs the low-residency MFA program. She swears this is not reflective of in-depth, wonderful, and non-surreal curriculum in the Fairfield MFA.