Informal Essays

A thoughtful letter to an old friend, a reflection on your education or ethnic heritage, a childhood reminiscence—these could all be informal essays. In writing, informality depends less on subject or structure than on the writing context. Informal essays assume a personal stance. They suggest close connections among writer, reader, and subject.

Informal essays are often written as stories that trace a sequence of events from beginning to end, with occasional intervals of description or analysis.

A quilt maker looks at scraps of cast-off fabric strewn about the attic floor and sees a design. Something—some juxtaposition of red beside lavender, some connection of past and present, facts and memories—triggers an impulse, starts an intuitive process. The quilt is both many and one—many individual pieces and one single object.

A metaphor makes a comparison, and in doing so shapes our perception. If we say, "Time is a river," we're noting a certain similarity between the two. Yet we know they aren't identical. We may mean that time is fluid, has currents and eddies, empties into some vast ocean, but not that it's composed of water. If we say, "Time is a stone," we may mean it's silent, still, indifferent, but not that it's a mineral.

As writers, we're often advised to "stick to the topic" and "get to the point." This is usually good advice, but not always. Sometimes it leads to writing that's shallow and one-dimensional, as though the writer had prematurely closed down the process of inquiry, just to produce something neat and tidy with no madwoman in the attic.