Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Procrastination and the Essay Monster

I've been putting off writing this entry, mostly because I have little to say tonight in this particular forum. Or so I thought. As so often happens, once I started it, I quickly found myself in a rant after all.

So When Did I Turn Into a Voluntary Essayist?

I just spent a couple of hours revising the heck out of the Wikipedia article about A Wind in the Door, the second novel in Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quartet. The first time I looked at that page, as I recall, I didn't want to deal with it: the article pretty clearly needed a lot of work. But over time I added bits and pieces, and tonight I gave the thing a major expansion and overhaul, complete with footnotes citing secondary sources.

Hey, wait a minute! Isn't this the same kind of writing that almost killed me back in high school and at Syracuse University? It was my huge mental block about writing literary essays that kept me from taking my B.A. in English, way back in 1979. I left school with four or five incompletes, all of which represented essays not written. Now I'm writing them for fun, apparently. How the heck did that happen?

Actually, there are a couple of reasons why this isn't as complete a reversal as it seems. Back in tenth grade, when Dan Cheney and I took a course in essay writing from Ms. Hiestand, we learned that there are all sorts of essays, and different kinds of essay structures. I actually liked that course, liked being exposed to a variety of ways to express myself in non-fiction. It was only after that, when teachers and professors consistently called for the rigidly-structured "five paragraph" literary essay format, that I found it harder and harder to give them what they wanted. There was some trick to the thesis, example, relate the example to the thesis requirement that I just couldn't fathom, and the teachers couldn't seem to convey to me.

But people change and learn things over the course of a quarter century, and even mental blocks can be chipped away over time. I'm not writing for Professor Howard now, and the literary essay isn't nearly the terrible, debilitating, impossible task it seemed to be when I was 22. For one thing, I got a lot of practice writing papers at the University of Phoenix a few years back. They weren't literary, but they were essentially in that same format. And I finally got it, and turned out all those papers with little difficulty after the first couple of courses. It's not, "Example B proves that Thesis A is true." It's, "As we consider Example B in light of Thesis A, we discover groovy Insight C."

Neat trick if you can do it.

Really, though, almost none of my online writing is that structured, even on Wikipedia (although Wikipedia has some rules about "no original research" and about citing sources that rankle me a bit). Sure, the articles or blog entries should be organized in a reasonable way, and rewritten as often as needed to make sense, which is something I don't always do adequately here at the Outpost. But they tend to be the relatively freeform, train of thought, fun essays of Ms. Hiestand's class, not the dry blah blah blah of the traditional literary essay. When I have something to say on a given subject, I actually enjoy writing these. From the Star Trek-related articles and editorials in 2-5YM when I was seventeen, through my later fanzine and Starlog contributions about Doctor Who and Quantum Leap, to the zillion words of blog postings over the past couple of years, it turns out that I've been writing essays all along - and liking it.

What About the Fiction?

There are other bits of writing, though, that I've been putting off this week. My sheet of paper about Darsuma trying to diagnose her own problem has had no new words on it in several days. I need to type it into Chapter Six of Mages and continue it, with the stuff that's more or less sorted out in my head for her to consider and conclude. I also realized today that Fayubi needs to tell her something in Chapter Two that helps to tie the Chendoris bits in with the prologue. No, I don't expect you to understand what I'm talking about, unless your name starts with S or B. But trust me on this. It's not going to be that hard to write at this point, but once it gets to be midnight and I haven't worked on it, I tend to put it off for the next night.

The same goes for The Jace Letters, except that I kind of think that's going to be harder. I should have posted the next installment over the weekend, and several nights in a row I promised to get it written. But I'm a little intimidated about it, because both characters know the Big Secret now, and I'm not sure they have much more to say to each other in emails. Well, I'll just have to try it and see.

And I need to update the church schedule page and news blog. I don't wanna, and least not tonight (or last night, or the night before). Does that make me a bad person?

All right: "the needs of the many" should be taken care of first. After posting this entry, I updated the two church pages anyway. The other stuff will just have to wait. Again.


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