Skip to main content

A third month of daily essays

I’ve now finished a third month of daily essays, and even made it past 100 essays. It’s time for me to reflect once again on what I’ve learned in writing this next month of essays. I think this essay is a little beyond my last end-of-month essay, but I decided it was best to put these essays at the end of actual, rather than conceptual, months.

I still don’t think that I write much better. I’m writing more than I usually do, and things improve with practice, so I may be writing (or at least typing) faster than I used to [1]. Of course, it’s not always clear that typing faster makes a difference. As Michelle notes, You wouldn’t write nearly as much if you didn’t type as fast as you do.

I seem to have embraced endnotes [3]. At times, I get a bit carried away with them, as you’ve seen recently, and as you will probably see in tomorrow’s essay [4]. However, it strikes me that the main essay (usually) succeeds on its own, so I don’t feel all that bad about the random, digressive, multi-step asides. In fact, I think the endnotes carry a lot of my voice, as it were.

I’m getting a lot of joy out of writing. Why? For multiple reasons. I like thinking, and writing about issues in the main body helps me think carefully about or through some issues. I also like making (bad) jokes, and the end notes provide me with the opportunity to make those jokes [5,6]. I also like creating things. I like writing programs. I like making sculptures. In some ways, writing these essays helps scratch my creative itch. And, on occasion, writing these essays allows me to geek out about some language issue.

Like many things that bring joy, writing these essays sometimes feels like a bit of an addiction: I just have to write a little bit more. I need to come up with another topic for next week. I just have to add three more endnotes [8]. At the same time, I think that it helps keep some aspects of my personality in check.I have to rant about this now." No, I’ll just add it to my list, and I can write about it later.

Importantly, having a nightly deadline has given me the permission to write some mediocre essays [10]. It’s helpful to know that I have to get something out, even if it’s not perfect. At the same time, I’ve found that what I think is mediocre is not necessarily what others think of as mediocre [11]. My essay on mastering Grinnell, which I thought of as one of my worst, garnered a few serious compliments.

I’ve discovered more of an audience than I thought I had [12]. Not many people click the Like button on Facebook, but I do seem to have a variety of readers. I thought my audience was mostly College folk, and mostly College folk within my circle. But I’ve been at a few recent high-school football games or band events when community members have come up to me and said something like Sam, I enjoyed reading your essays. I’ve also had some alums, including some alums I don’t know at all, tell me that they like my essays. At the same time, many of my readers seem to be discovering that it’s harder for them to keep up on reading my essays than it is for me to keep up on writing them. That’s understandable.

It’s also not clear that I really need an audience. That isn’t to say that I’m not happy to have an audience; I am. Rather, it’s that many of my goals in writing are personal (thinking through issues, enjoying creating, leaving something for my kids, etc.), and I’ll achieve those goals even if I don’t have an audience. At the same time, I also see some benefits to having an audience. For example, I hope that my daily writings suggest to students that there’s value in writing, even if you are not writing for an assignment.

I have not always been good at predicting the work load. I sometimes choose essays that I think I can write quickly and get to bed. But then I end up spending three times as much time on them as I had planned, and I don’t get to bed until much too late. At other times, I think an essay will be long and complicated, and I can write it quickly [14].

I’ve found that I have more things to write about than I expected. When I started, I had a list of thirty or so natural topics. After three months and more than one-hundred essays, I now have a list of more than 100 remaining topics, along with a list of Grinnellians who I want to write about. I even have some plans for individual months of similar kinds of essays [16].

Sometimes it seems like these essays might even make a bit of a difference. The essays led a student who needed help to contact me. (Sam, your essays make it sound like you’d be someone who’d be able to help me with this.) I take that as a huge positive. I think I’ve inspired at least one other person to write, which is great.

Early on, it seemed like I might have to remove essays regularly. However, I don’t seem to have deleted an essay since #3 [17]. However, I am finding that I will need to revisit some topics. I need to write a new version of the Posse essay. Some recent experiences suggest that I need to write an alternative version of the essay on changes at Grinnell [18].

I’ve also watched what can happen when you write an essay and people misunderstand your tone. (No, this was not my essay.) Unfortunately, in modern America, it seems that there’s nothing you can write that is so over the top that it becomes clear that you are writing satire. I should probably take that as a warning.

Will I continue writing? I think so. As I noted above, I have more than one hundred outstanding topics. I have plans for the next few months. I get joy from writing. Yeah, I’ll keep writing.

[1] I’m up to about 100 words per minute, adjusted, on my laptop’s keyboard [2]. That’s perhaps five words per minute faster than the last time I took it, so maybe a slight increase.

[2] I should probably also take the test on a mechanical keyboard, which some of my colleagues claim helps with typing speed.

[3] Or are they footnotes?

[4] How do I know? Tomorrow’s essay is one that I’ve sketched, and I already have way too many digressions in that essay.

[5] Or is it that the jokes are in the main essay, and the thoughtful analysis is in the endnotes? I can never get that straight.

[6] Should I be ashamed that what I think of as my voice is a bunch of loosely connected endnotes that are occasionally funny [7]? Nah.

[7] More precisely, rarely funny.

[8] Or four [9].

[9] Or more.

[10] some mediocre essays is probably a euphemism for an amazingly high fraction of essays with poor writing and inadequate analysis.

[11] I accidentally wrote mediocore, which I think is an inadequate kind of manticore.

[12] I had hoped that my send me a favorite essay would bring out more of my audience. I was wrong.

[13] Although footnote 13 may have appeared in some recent essays, these is once again no footnote 13.

[14] In some ways, that’s like predicting how long it will take to develop software. Of course, for software, things almost always take longer [15], rather than less time.

[15] The formula I’ve been told is Take your most informed guess. Double it. And then increase the units. For example, if you think something will take five minutes, it will probably take ten hours. If you think it will take ten hours, it will probably take twenty days.

[16] I have no idea whether or not my muse will allow me to stick within a fixed range of topics or approaches for a whole month. We will see. She certainly sidetracked me on the plans for the last dozen or so essays. Fortunately, I’ve now discovered the power of bonus essays.

[17] There was, of course, a period in which I proactively deleted essays, in that I stopped writing before I even finished the second paragraph. I think I wrote about this issue at the time.

[18] In reflecting on the issues that bother me now, I realize that some similar issues existed twenty years ago, too.

Version 1.0 of 2016-10-31.