The secret life of the woven essay

If  I were to choose a topic that interested me—say, the history of famous oak trees—and research it, I’d probably start as many folks do. With Google. But I’d also browse through Goodreads, looking for titles of books that should exist. There should, for example, be a book called The Secret Life of Trees, because that’s something I want to know. There are several, in fact, books called The Secret Life of Trees, one nonfiction, one children’s reader, and one book of short stories. I’d skim the former.

Once I’d done some research on famous oaks and trees in general, I might think of an unrelated experience from my childhood, and write an essay on the two subjects. I would alternate between short paragraphs of reportage on celebrated trees or shrubs in the genus Quercus, and brief, lyrical passages about the remembered experience, with the goal being to find a way to relate the two. The result: a woven essay.

Shall we try it?

Secret Life of Trees

The Woven Essay*: Choose a topic that interests you—it could be an animal, a scientific process, or a historical event, for example—and research it. Next, think of an unrelated experience from your life—a particularly memorable moment from childhood, perhaps, or when a loved one passed away—and write an essay on the two subjects. Alternate between short paragraphs of factual reportage on the topic and brief, more lyrical vignettes about the remembered experience, with the end goal of finding a way to relate the two.

*From Poets & Writers “The Time Is Now,” May 17, 2012

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