A long time ago I started using the word essay for my random ramblings on this blog. I’ve never been all that comfortable with it. Essays sounds kind of grand for what I do. It implies research or at least some level of knowledge on the subject discussed. Half the time I’m really just babbling about whatever is on my mind. I guess they’re really op-eds but it’s too late to change it now.
See what I mean? The entire first paragraph of this post has nothing to do with what I’m actually going to write about. So unprofessional!
For those of you who have been around for a while, you might know that I go through periods of writing mostly reviews and periods of writing essays. And I have been asked a few times by readers which I prefer and which I find harder. And I never really had a good answer. They are pretty different types of posts so it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges.
But lately, I have been thinking about this question a bit more and here is what I found: It depends…
Horrible answer, isn’t it!
See writing reviews has a few very distinct advantages. First of all you don’t need that much inspiration to do it. You just need to sit down and write what you thought about a show you saw. Most people can do that without too much effort. And if you find you have nothing to say, you can easily resort to describing the show or movie. Even professional reviewers do that.
–Sidenote: I am by no means a professional reviewer but having reviewed a lot of anime now, I know just how difficult it can be when you watch 3 shows in a row that leave you with more or less the same impression. After a while, most series sort of blur together when it comes to what you actually have to say about them with the exception of the actual masterpieces and garbage fires. The more shows you watch the worse it gets, especially if you watch them close together. I can only imagine that if I had to watch and review 50 movies after going to a festival, my brain would melt and I would be resorting to jus describing scenes by review number 3.
Moreover writing reviews can be very cathartic. Waxing poetic about an anime you loved is a wonderful way to extend that experience and hold on to the magic a little longer. Sarcastically dunking on a show you suffered through can be wicked fun. I would say that my favourite posts on this blog are probably all reviews of series that have deeply touched me.
But, there are also downsides. Even though the predefined format and ready material is great to give your post inherent structure and focus, it can be a little stifling. And since it is still meant to be an informative post, you might have to do a little research, get some screencaps maybe look up who was involved in the production. There’s a bit of extra work involved that can make the writing process just a little longer. And of course, you have to actually watch the anime. That’s hours of commitment for a single post. And not everyone is going to have time for that. In fact, most people won’t.
Sure, you can circumnavigate the issue by writing episode reviews but that presents a whole other bunch of unique challenges. I’ve actually touched on the subject before if you’re interested.
So how does writing essays compare? Well the biggest hurdle for most people, myself included is just how intimidating the empty page can be. You need an idea and then you need to somehow structure that idea in a reasonably coherent way and if you manage all that, you still need to find something to say about it. If you hit on the perfect subject, it can be magic. Words just flow out and you can find yourself with a decent post that is unlike anything else out there in half the time it would have taken you to write a decent review. But sometimes, no matter how much you try or how much you care about a topic, the post just won’t come together. I have tons of half-finished essays that I was just never able to make into a satisfying post. The ideas wonder, I find myself halfway through thinking, what exactly am I trying to say here anyways or this isn’t interesting at all…. This has never been an issue with reviews.
And any post that includes an opinion can be daunting to share on the internet. Anime fans are occasionally a *passionate* bunch so I don’t blame bloggers who are reticent to share some (or even any) of their personal views for fear of coming under attack or getting roped into some long-winded debate.
Of course, this is highly dependent on the subject of your post. I doubt anyone will get outraged by the present effort for instance!
Still, at the end of the day, writing a good essay post is a bit of a gamble, at least for me. I never know how or even if it will turn out at all. But when it does, it can be very satisfying as well. Like I said, although my favourite posts on this site are all reviews I would say that on average, I prefer my essay posts to my reviews if that makes sense.
So you see…it depends.
If I find a show I love or that has a premise that captures my imagination then I will definitely prefer writing reviews, even though it can be quite challenging. I’m not great at writing snark, I tend to feel bad for the people involved in making the show but I love reading them and I do occasionally write really mean reviews I don’t publish. They are fun to write!
On the other hand, if I find a topic on which I have a lot to say and can organize my thoughts easily, then an essay is the way to go. It’s easy and makes me feel like I’m having an actual conversation with the readers in a way that reviews just don’t.
For those of you who write both reviews and *essay* posts, has this also been your experience? Do you have a different view on the subject?
11 thoughts on “Do I Prefer Writing Essays or Reviews”
I find that anime in general has started to all blend together for me. As you pointed out, there are masterpieces and there are dumpster fires. Unfortunately, too many feel formulaic. No matter how good the recipe, there needs to be that element of uniqueness. Otherwise it is just another boring old cinnamon bun.
Even though there is a structure present there, my reviews read like essays. So I can’t say much about it. Though one thing is certain: I enjoy writing both.
This is such a hard question because those sort of topical essay posts are things I just think about a lot somewhere along the line and then just step up to write about. And those posts are always kind of rambling I have constrain them a lot more in a way that is somehow readable maybe? Hopefully? Review posts are kind of the same way except I never know how to start them and I flail around a lot and what I want to discuss about a certain show is so random sometimes. Especially since some shows have more interesting things I like to discuss compared to others. I guess you can just say that somehow I have been doing this whole thing by the seat of my pants for along time….
I think describing your opinion pieces as “essays” is perfectly legitimate. Michel de Montaigne described his philosophical writings as “essays” precisely because they were his “attempt” (the original meaning of the word “essay”) to articulate hi thinking on various subjects. So when you give us your opinion on an issue you are doing exactly that: you are ‘essaying” (attempting) to articulate your thinking about a particular matter. So – write on!
Nice! I didn’t look into the ethnology of essay but I’m glad you told me about it
Interesting! I find it is the other way around – when doing an essay (I’d call it an “editorial” normally), I often find it easier, because it’s like the rules disappear and you can just ramble on. Then. I get to pretend whatever I end up with has some sort of structure, haha.
For a review, I feel more responsibility to be objective and cover all the main points. I enjoy those too, but it’s usually (like you say) for a particular film/game/anime/etc. I have alot of thoughts about and specifically want to to highlight. 🙂
I get that.
I sometimes use that type by voice thing…. I dunno what it’s called. Speech text?
And edit formal words to obviously make it look like those words actually come out of my mouth, my personality.
So, you have a nonsensical essay that’s actually a long, one-sided conversation by Shoka….
Sounds like fun!
“I have tons of half-finished essays that I was just never able to make into a satisfying post” is extremely relatable. I have had the same experience. Reviews by constrast are easier to write, but as you say, I have to put the time in, and all the more effort for a game review. I think that’s the reason most of my reviews are positive: I generally only watch what looks like will appeal to me, and if it’s not working for me after a few episodes I’m more likely to drop it or put it on indefinite hold than to finish it.
When you look at it that way, negative reviews really imply a lot of sacrifice on the part of the reviewer!