When it comes to writing essays, I only had the single story. In high school, when assigned a research paper or short writing assignment for literature, I automatically wrote the “cheeseburger” essay. Five simple paragraphs. Introduction with a thesis, three supporting paragraphs, a conclusion that restates your thesis. Basic and simple, yet efficient. The five paragraph essay served me well. It never failed on the ACT or AP exams, in any English, science or history class. But the thing about the five paragraph essay is that it’s boring and predictable. I understand that it’s easy to grade for teachers with large classes, but it can be difficult to write for a student as well. When I’m writing about something that I’m truly passionate about, it can be hard for me to find a stopping place. When you’re forced to restate your thesis in your conclusion paragraph, not having a stopping place can be a real problem.
I wish I had read “The Sixth Paragraph” in high school. Knowing that the original essays were sometimes random, incomplete thoughts makes me feel better about my writing. I’m known to jot down short notes to reference later when I have an idea about something to write. These notes don’t make sense to anybody else, and sometimes they don’t even make sense to me when I go back to finish them. I’ll often end up with one or two random lines of poetry jotted down in a notebook with no idea on how to finish the stanza. The idea that writing doesn’t have to be an inflexible structure is comforting. Sometimes work doesn’t have a clear beginning, middle or end. Sometimes you don’t have a thesis or three supporting paragraphs. Writing can be about pondering your thoughts and your ideas. The best kind of writing is “one that allows you to wander far and wander out loud.”