Notes On An Essay

It is not the done thing to mention work which one has done and has submitted, until that work has been accepted, or if not then in the capacity of a kind of lament (read whinge) about why nobody has recognised my genius yet. I’ve done that – if any criticism is implied then I should bear it with any other guilty parties, and perhaps more than them – but my reader knows that and I won’t burden her with unnecessary and pointless hammering of a theme which only ever had limited interest anyway.

(Incidentally, this blog could be called “unnecessary and pointless hammering” … I mean, um – OK, disregard that. I was trying to say that I’m a bit self-indulgent most of the time, which I do recognise, but the little mirthless joke lost its logic and became just a weird arrangement of words, so I’ll stop now.)

(And I was being self-indulgent about being self-indulgent, which I get, too. Is opening up a new set of parentheses pretentious? Perhaps. OK.)

It occurred to me that I could write something about the project just completed, and that this could even have some kind of – limited (let’s be honest) – interest for my reader, or even her friend who might happen to look over her shoulder as she’s reading, or glancing perhaps, for in-depth reading probably wouldn’t be going on, and anyway … alright this really will stop now. Sorry.

There was a competition, of sorts, in a literary journal, and the idea was to submit a piece of non-fiction writing in order to be in the running to win a cash prize and be published. Being published is more important to me than the size of the money, unless it’s an enormous sum, but it is important to be paid, and it would generally make me feel much more fulfilled as a writer to get reinforcement of this kind. It doesn’t need explaining. Competition was on, I heard about, decided to enter, and started writing.

At school and while at university essays were my thing. Looking back it may not have been that there was actually any spark of real original intelligence in what I produced, but I was good at recalling facts, and did have my own ideas, when I was in an exam room, and as for the research assignment kind of essay, well, I just loved research. This often meant that there was too much of other people’s opinions in my essays, always correctly attributed, with very good footnotes and bibliographies and so on, but so much attention would be devoted to outlining what the main commentators had said about a historical issue (it was mostly history – that was the mainstay) that there wasn’t enough of me in the finished paper.

And so I had to be careful that that didn’t happen this time. Partly this was because the non-fiction piece was supposed to be innovative and blend elements of different kinds of writing, implying the inserting yourself into the story a bit (when I mentioned “gonzo” to a friend he claimed not to know the word and I really couldn’t be bothered explaining it to him. He also said he didn’t know Hunter S Thompson, which I found surprising. I should have explained, but he should have known more than nothing about this. He’s a smart guy. Or I thought he was. Yes, I’m being too judgemental.) Anyway, I had some idea what was being asked for and thought I would be able to supply it. I thought it would just happen, in some ways. If the mind was free and fetters loose then I could innovate. But it wasn’t really like that.

It ended up being a bit too formal and traditional. Not with phrases like “we shall now turn to” or “that is beyond the scope of the present essay” or “having defined the parameters of the topic it would be prudent to note some recent advances in the historiography of this period” (and yes, I made the last one up, but not the others, which I have used many times before). I ended up actually arguing for something, which made a change from some of my uni essays, but it wasn’t too well argued/supported by evidence as a formal piece of work, and as a piece new writing engaged in the business of stretching boundaries it just didn’t do that enough. Or at all. It wasn’t funky. I’m pretty sure they wanted funky.

A lot of research went into it, mostly from the internet, in part because I couldn’t find a copy of one of my theses (the less crap one), and in all many hours went into a pretty thin piece of work. It has some good things, and mostly doesn’t commit the sin of being boring, which is a good thing. But with historical topics everything is relative and personal taste plays a big part of what people like to read, so one shouldn’t be too confident about something like that.

As with other things I have written recently, I found it difficult to sleep well while the writing was going on. Being awake at pretty much any hour meant thinking about things which should really be included or how to phrase a certain sentence to improve it or worrying about research which seemed necessary with time running out – and that meant not going back to sleep. And once finished the emptiness comes or the new kind of worry or whatever it is, and you don’t feel a great deal better that it’s all over, perhaps because it isn’t. Now you have to wait, and although you aren’t super happy with it you hope that someone who reads it will be having a bad day of some kind and mistake it for an excellent example of witty, intelligent writing – or that maybe it has become a beautifully written, thoughtful piece somehow since you released it into the world and this other person who edits a magazine gets the chance to read it.

But those little neuroses apply in any case, and perhaps I have written enough this evening.

Published in: on January 28, 2015 at 7:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

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