Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Essay That Didn't (Did?) Resolve Itself

Please excuse the long delay in posts.

Sometimes when you have an idea, you get in there to work on it and realize it's not that interesting or there isn't really that much to say. But usually when you tackle an idea that DOES prove interesting, and you generate lots of thoughts or images, or write up some nice anecdotes that fit in with it, or pontificate on some tangential thing, it all ends up in one complete package. Not a neat package maybe (more boring, usually, if it is) but a finished one that has some point or is about some bigger concept, or at least feels done.

I've been working on this essay about trains for months. It started out with the question of why I am so fascinated by certain romanticized images, and certain cliche, genre-ish stuff like Agatha Christie novels. I want familiarity in these cliches---I want to see the train snaking along the countryside, I want a narrow corridor where two youngish, attractive strangers pass each other in a strangely charged way en route to their berths in a pullman sleeper. I want dressing gowns, and Russians, and the promise of reaching Istanbul in a few days time.

It's all so canned, right? But why does it all fascinate me so much---that was the question.

Well I was going to say here that I have lots of content for the essay, but strangely couldn't find any ending. Or really what I mean is I couldn't find any larger points to make. Why do I care about trains? I didn't know---I didn't even have any ideas. And what's all these musings without some kind of insight to go along with it.

But while writing the above (like right then! During this very blog entry!) I got an idea that I think will work. So maybe the real point is that if going back to a piece of writing in your usual fashion doesn't help, try something different, like writing about your frustration. It's like cross training at the gym.


  1. I'm convinced that we sneak up on ideas all sorts of ways, including the most self-conscious and oblique, and that if something fascinates us, there's something larger there.

  2. Yep, absolutely, Kevin.

    And as a side note, its worth keeping a little notebook or something of weird things that fascinate us so when we do our regular, dedicated writing sessions (that I know we ALL do) we always have some fodder.

    As a side, side note I guess I am very white, as I have now written here about both little notebooks and trains. But I think its both ridiculous and a shame to insinuate that writing down your thoughts and ideas as "white" behavior.

  3. The end of an essay should therefore convey a sense of completeness and closure as well as a sense of the lingering possibilities of the topic.