Essay Prompts Get Us Started

How We Begin


by Kathy Coogan

The first essay prompt you were ever given was in grade school. “How I spent my summer vacation” is the age-old essay prompt that teachers everywhere employ to begin a school year.

Kindergarten kids use rudimentary crayoned pictures of smiling stick-figures swimming, running and catching fish. Soon, pictures are replaced with words comprising simple sentences describing those activities. Once those words are in place on the page, you have written your first essay.

Essays, like snowflakes and grains of sand, are abundant. And each is different. You may be prompted to write an essay about a sudden blizzard in February describing the diamond-like sparkle on the drifts outside your window. While on the same topic I would be prompted to defame the weatherman whose forecast was for a dusting of the blasted white stuff that now fills my boots.

To each his own. The name of the game is point of view. Generally any writing that discusses a topic in an organized manner from the author’s perspective can be called an essay. Essays can describe or define things or events. They can compare and contrast. They can attempt to convince the reader to think a particular way.

Articles in magazines and newspapers, literary and theatrical reviews, political rants and even obituaries qualify. Essays are found in diaries and letters and on college and job applications. The variety of topics that can become writing ideas are unlimited.

If you’d like to try your hand, here are a few to get you started.

    1. How you spent your summer vacation. And why. Really.
    2. Explain your hobby, why you do it and why I should.
    3. Review your favorite book.
    4. Select a favorite quote and enlarge upon it.
    5. Defend or dispute my essay Cynicism in Suburbia.

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