The Endless Essay

Will it ever be finished? Your guess is as good as mine.

For the past couple of years I’ve been working in fits and starts on a piece of creative nonfiction that I’ll call “the endless essay.”

At least I think it’s a nonfiction essay I’m writing. It feels that way. It reads like creative nonfiction.

But whenever I work on intrinsically motivated projects, it's best not to draw too many conclusions about what it is I’m writing before it’s actually finished. I’ve started on “essays” that eventually morphed into letters, journal entries, and book reviews. I've also started countless "essays" only to scrap them completely a few weeks later.

This 5000-word beastie I’m currently wrestling with has tried on and rejected probably 25 different titles. It's endured far more rounds of edits than I’d like to admit. (Uh, not that I’m actually counting, mind you, but…)

Lately I’ve become unusually frustrated with the stubbornness of this “essay.” I’d really like to either finish writing it, or accept that I’m not up to the task of finishing it for whatever reason, release it from my mind, and move on to another project.

Putting that level of time, labor, and thought into a piece of writing on a topic I care deeply about — yet still not being able to get it into the shape I know it needs, nor to let it go — is thoroughly unsatisfying. (Don’t even get me started on the in-progress book manuscripts. They taunt me).

Further complicating these matters is a suspicion that even if I do manage to finish the endless essay, I’m uncertain that I’ll be able to muster sufficient courage to release it publicly. Or by the time I do, it’ll seem dated, and I’ll have to edit it all over again.

It’s hardly the first time this has happened. Like many writers, I’ve got far more unfinished essays, blog posts, articles, and other half-baked whatever-you-call-its in my files than I can count.

A sizable chunk of them — the vast majority, in fact — will remain on the cutting room floor, never to be seen in public, despite the fact that I poured months and years of work into them and sweated over every detail.

I'm aware that this is par for the course with all creative work. But there's salvageable material in there! I have a strong sense that at least one-third of those unfinished "essays" could in fact become finished essays, or at least finished something-or-others, if I were to edit them for publication.

For now, instead of working on Schrödinger's essay, I’m taking refuge in my new digital incubation space. I don't want to fret about monetization or engagement or subscriber growth. I don't want to pursue publication. I don't want to pursue, period.

I enjoy writing in this liminal space.

I enjoy having no goals for it, and not knowing where it will lead.

Thanks for joining me.

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#creative nonfiction writing#creative process#essays