I just went to the gym (where I ran into my very nice coworker Ray---hi Ray!) and now I have to take a shower. I am sitting here wishing that I didn't have to do that---that I could magically become clean and so get on to the other many things I have to do. I also have to do my dishes from dinner. I wish I didn't have to do that either. In fact there are many things in life that I wish I didn't have to do: get a haircut, mop my floors, shop for a dress. I like the outcome of those things but not the process.
Then I started thinking: what about my job? Do I wish I didn't have to do the things I do at my job? Some of them yes---the annoying but necessary bits. But in the main I do my job because I like to do it. I like to solve problems. I like to neaten up chaos and track down answers. I like to translate technical concepts into orderly, clear English.
Then I started thinking about my dad, a theoretical mathematician. He may be the quintessential example of liking the process rather than the outcome. If a mathematical problem is solved, if a chunk of the mathematical existosphere is ironed out, it may be attractive or even interesting, but it isn't what floats his boat. Forgive the analogy, but it's almost like the stereotypical woman you slept with who no longer interests you. Maybe a better analogy would be a crossword puzzle: a filled in crossword puzzle isn't interesting at all.
If you've read any other bits of the blog, you'll know where this is going. An essay is the solving of the puzzle. It's the figuring things out. It's not the conclusion (clean dishes) that readers want, it's the process. (Or if it is the conclusion they want, they are darn interested in how that conclusion was reached.) That's why a good essay often starts with an open question, and leads to unexpected places. That's why an essay can end with "I don't know" and still be a success.