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A Second Month of Daily Essays

I’ve now finished a second month of daily essays. Now, those of you who haven’t been paying close attention may be asking yourselves why essay #71 is at the end of the second month. Shouldn’t it be essay #62 or perhaps #61, or even #59 if one of the months was February? But those of you who have been paying close attention know that I started doing these essays in the spring, wrote almost an essay a day for a month, wrote an end of month essay, and then, um, alternated between zero and two essays a day for another few days before giving up altogether. So, this essay is #31 in the series of essays since I started writing again with essay #41.

Anyway, having finished another month of essays, I feel like I should step back and see what I’ve learned or gained in another month [0].

One of my goals in writing these essays was to become a better writer. I don’t think that’s really happened, but I’d have to spend the time reading the first essays to be sure. I think I’ve established that I write solid, clear, workmanlike prose, with an occasional flash of brilliance [1]. Seeing Erik Simpson’s followup to one of my essays reinforced to me the difference between a talented writer (like Erik) and a competent one (like me).

But I don’t mind all that much that I’m just a competent writer. I seem to have some interesting things to say, and one thing I’ve learned this month is that I have a fairly diverse audience, including some students, some faculty, some other Grinnell colleagues, some alumni, some old friends, and some others. On occasion, I have the pleasure of hearing from someone that they’d heard about my essays and want to know where to find them. I’m glad to hear that two of my children sometimes read the essays [2]. I’ve brought people a bit of joy by including them in my essays [3] or by making mistakes that they’ve caught [4].

I do think I’ve developed my authorial voice a bit more. I feel that my writing is straightforward, with a bit of self reflection and a snarky attitude [5]. I’ve also embraced my habit of parenthetical comments and too many end notes [6].

I’ve also experimented with a few more kinds of writing. I wrote my first concert review, and even ended up getting a compliment from the musicians and soundman. I wrote my first two short profiles, and I am finding that I am making an ever-expanding list of profiles to write.

I tried a few exercises of writing things that I was going to write anyway, such as the notes on the state of student-faculty research in CS and the reflections on scholarship for all in CS. In the latter case, I discovered that even after too many hours of writing the essay, I still needed another hour to rewrite it into memo form for my Deans and then another hour to rewrite it after getting suggestions from my colleagues. But I needed to get the first ideas out in writing before putting them into memo form, so I don’t think writing the essay first really added too much to the time. And I hope it will help me when I speak at a Faculty Friday about those issues.

I tried to focus on some more positive topics. My children tell me that I write better when I’m ranting about something [7]. And it’s much easier to write those rants. I probably really am the curmudgeon I call myself. But being a curmudgeon can have positive impact, as I learned today when I helped make an important change by complaining about things.

I had a number of experiences in which I realized that I could not post (or at least not immediately post) something I’d written. I think I’ve (mostly) addressed that issue.

Should I keep writing? I have a backlog of topics I want to write about, including the five or so forthcoming essays I mentioned in yesterday’s essay. I should at least get through those five essays, and some of the other backlog. I also have a number of things I haven’t ranted about (or ranted enough about). And maybe there’s an advantage to writing the rants here, so that I don’t use the ranting tone in email to my colleagues and students. I’ll certainly encounter some issues that I want to think more deeply about, and writing has been successful as a mechanism for honing my thoughts.

There’s also a bit of a sense of accomplishment in being able to say that I’ve now written seventy essays and that I’m able to write an essay each day [8]. I think I’ll feel even more of a sense of accomplishment when I reach 100, so it’s worth trying for at least another month.

And, hey, maybe at some point I’ll even start editing and wordsmithing my essays [9].

I hope that some of you will stick with me for the next month, and that maybe I’ll even get a few new readers. We’ll see.

[0] Yes, it’s one of those essays wonderfully self-indulgent genre of writing about writing. But, hey, I’m not the only essayist to fill victim to that genre.

[1] Son number two, you can stop laughing now.

[2] Those of you who remember the genesis of these essays may recall some maudlin comment about these essays providing my children with something to remember me by.

[3] At least twice now, RS!

[4] No, the mistakes are not intentional.

[5] I wonder if my readers agree.

[6] Way too many end notes.

[7] Actually, I think they said Your essays are more fun to read when you’re ranting about something.

[8] Some students look incredibly puzzled when I tell them that I write an essay each day, as in Why would you ever want to do that?

[9] Or maybe not.

Version 1.0.1 of 2016-09-30.