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In 1580, Michel de Montaigne published Essais, the first collection of essays presented to the literary world. Since then, essays have become a component of school, in fact, the majority of people have written at least one essay at some point in their school career. An essay, in its literal sense, is a discussion of a topic from an author's personal point of view, as influenced by subjective experience and personal reflection. Topics may include actual happenings, issues of human life, morality, society, ethics, religion and many other subjects. From the Age of Enlightenment onwards, famous essayists like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Washington Irving and Marshall McLuhan have composed interesting, thought provoking and often socially influential essays.

Essayists usually write other forms of non-fiction and fictional works and are known for their persistence, self-discipline and tenacity. They have the ability to express ideas and stories clearly and logically and create awareness or political debate amongst readers. Every essayist has his or her own method and style of creation. Some work with intricate and sophisticated outlines whereas others work right off the top of their heads. A good essayist, besides being knowledgeable about their subject matter, works on making important connections within the essay's theme, finely weaving the plot together.

Most essayists rewrite and revise their material, at least once before publishing. They also cut out much work in the process. Essayists use both their intellect and imagination to create ideas and think pieces. They often base their work on personal experiences, although their essays also include some form of research. The modern essayist is a freelance writer who sends in editorial pieces to magazines and newspapers. Essayists may get published in academic publications or perform research for professors at a university.

For any essayist to be taken seriously, they must produce a portfolio of their best published work. A good way to build a portfolio is to write non-paying assignments for a while (sort of like volunteering) and make a name for oneself. This is an industry in which writers must be willing to put in long work before any positive results are visible. The more one writes, the better confidence, skill and ability one will attain. Practice shows clearly in one's work as well. Also, essayists must learn to accept rejection and not take it personally. The majority of essayists work for years before they get noticed.

In keeping up with technology, essayists should know how to use electronic publishing programs and computers. Successful essayists learn to develop effective work habits, including what hours and which places they work best in. Finally, if you ask an essayist how to become a good writer, they will basically tell you to start writing. Those who write are writers -- it's as simple as that.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
What skills does it take to become an essayist? Good essayists know how to express ideas clearly in writing. They are usually very knowledgeable in their particular area of interest, which is usually evident in their work. They are good researchers and organized individuals. Essayists require self-discipline to work on their own and to meet deadlines. Essayists should enjoy entertaining an audience through their writing. Finally, essayists must be able to withstand rejection and have confidence in their abilities as a writer.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Conceive of and write essays and other material for publication
  • Research similar literature to establish factual content and to obtain other necessary information
  • Organize ideas and facts for an outline
  • May choose and develop a theme or subject about which to write an essay on
  • Write essays for publication to inform, educate and entertain
  • Write and rewrite work until editors, producers and writers are personally satisfied with it
  • Revise after reviewing project, or getting views from an editor
  • Initiate and maintain contact with appropriate publishers or producers
  • Negotiate fees and royalties for manuscripts
  • Use a computer or word-processor to write essays
  • There is no such thing as a typical day for an essayist. Since there are so many kinds of essayists, each works on their own schedule, setting their own hours. They spend much of their time working alone, researching in libraries and writing at home. However, they are in regular contact with editors and publishers, and may spend some time interviewing people for pieces. The pressure of deadlines, rejections, unwilling editors and publishers and sporadic work can be stressful. Successful essayists spend many hours each day writing.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Essayists work for advertising agencies, magazines, newspapers, journals, radio and television stations, religious organizations, social agencies, governments, large corporations, private consulting firms, publishing firms and other establishments. Most essayists are self-employed and work as freelancers. They often publish and market their work themselves, or submit their work to publishers.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Advancement opportunities for essayists, particularly freelancers, are limited and based on the amount of work and effort one is willing to personally put in. However, an essayist working consistently for one publication house may eventually get a job as a staff writer or a contributing editor. Also, essayists can become editors and publishers. Many essayists teach English or creative writing at the secondary or postsecondary level, especially as a form of supplementing their income. Some essayists may become literary critics for newspapers and magazines.

  Educational Paths  
There is no required educational path for becoming an essayist. Nevertheless, many do have university degrees in English, creative writing or journalism. Talent and ability, as demonstrated by a portfolio of work or a manuscript, are important publishing criterion.

Since a postsecondary education does not ensure success as a writer, experience is the best teacher in this field. University or college training can be useful in developing research skills, organizational skills and professional contacts. Essayists can also attend writing conferences and workshops or take creative writing correspondence courses. Again, the best training an essayist can gain is by writing and writing as much as they can, including school assignments. Find websites that publish writer's works for free and volunteer for school papers. Also, keeping a journal and constantly jotting down thoughts and ideas will help you develop your own voice and ideas.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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