Dec 23, 2006

On Essays, Post Titles, and the Act of Writing

A regular reader wrote in and asked about my proclivity to label essays with straightforward titles that begin with the preposition "on."

I subconsciously - and later in a conscious sense - began to use this format in emulation of Michel de Montaigne, a sixteenth-century French writer often credited with inventing the literary genre of the essay.

I also like to use such titles as a consistent, easily-recognizable cue when I delve into this sort of personal reflection on a given topic, both to forewarn readers who visit the site for hard news, and to keep myself moored to the theme of the post.

Essays, for me, are a way to sort of think out loud, to put down some thoughts that have been bouncing around my head before I lose them in the many distractions of the hyperactive modern world. In a selfish sense I also use essays to get feedback, seeing if readers spot glaring holes in an argument, or if I seem to have struck some sort of chord with my writing.

In some ways I find essays to be my favorite form of writing, as there are no limitations other than those of the imagination. If I choose to deliberately break a grammatical or stylistic norm, I can feel free to do so in an essay, whereas in writing designed for a journalistic or academic audience I have to follow the particular forms and rules for those genres.

Finally, to me the essay is one of the purest, most natural forms of writing I can fathom. It succinctly represents my thoughts - albeit in a far more organized fashion than the relative chaos normally found in my head - and gives the reader a momentary snapshot of where my befuddled brain is.


Mark said...

The difference between your essays and Montaigne's:
Yours are more entertaining.

or maybe it's just my 1990s-bred low attention span

microdot said...

Eh, Voila, the process of creation on a type pad! A vague idea of what you want to say, armed with a few facts...suddenly another part of the brain takes over and organizes your ramblings into eloquence...okay...but the first part is being brave enough to start. I remember the first time I was given an expensive piece of paper in an art class to draw on...I had a conte crayon in my hand and stared at the paper, then at the subject I was to the paper...then my drawing teacher came up to me and asked me if I was afraid of the paper...and grabbed the crayon out of my hand and scribbled on the paper and said, "There, I ruined it, now you have to fix it!"

Gina said...

Great stuff, keep up the good work!

Hooda Thunkit said...


Nice essay!

I like to jot down some ideas and save them, fleshing them out later and save them, going over my post at least one more time, unless there is a sense of timeliness or urgency in posting it.

I find that by using multiple steps I can eliminate quite a few errors, and often many unnecessary words/phrases.