On essays

Birzhan Moldagaliyev
2 min readAug 23, 2017

My first encounter with essays happened while preparing to an English language examination, either IELTS or TOELF, I do not remember exactly. Having never seen this word before, my mind wondered: “what the heck they want from me”. Later I learned that I was expected to write some piece of writing following some structural template, which should have some nontrivial vocabulary and a certain word count. Being able to fulfill these requirements proved that I was able to write in English. I enrolled in essay writing classes which taught us templates we should follow, big words which make essay look good and tips on time management. In this way, essay writing was associated with proving something: that I can speak English, that I deserve to be in certain university and that I remembered some course material. At some point, I was fed up with all these ‘proving myself’ things. I had realized that I have nothing to prove. I had enough. I desired to express myself.

Gradually I started to remember what I enjoyed doing when I was a child. I loved reading all sorts of books for fun. So, I started to read for fun again. My reading spectrum was quite wide, ranging from popular science to novels. Once I was reading ‘How to live’ by Sarah Bakewell on the life of French essayist Montaigne. At the beginning of the book, the author gave an etymology of the word ‘essay’. It turns out that ‘essay’ comes from French ‘essayer’ meaning ‘to try’ or ‘to attempt’. Immediately, I found myself dumbfounded. I could not believe what I was reading. Essays were never meant to be perfect nor they were meant to impress. They had much humbler origin: they were meant to express. They were meant to be an attempt of something. After understanding this, all crappy essay-writing techniques, all TOELF and SAT essays lost their meaning in my eyes. I understood that essay is not a tool of proving my value, but rather my attempt to express or to portray certain things.

From that time I knew that I want to write my own essays. I wanted to share my own life experiences. I wanted to share my lessons. This is why I write essays.