Merry Wanderer of the Night + writing

Awesome Essays: Walking With an Essayist

I was struck by Bonnie Rough's essay, Walking With an Essayist, this morning for two reasons. One, I love to walk and have been doing far too little of it as of late. What is it with essayists and walking anyway? I feel like we do so much of it. Fiction writers must be runners. Poets are swimmers. Two, I'm working on an essay collection for National Novel Writing Month and was inspired by Rough's thoughts on writing. Hopefully other NaNoers will find this essay inspiring even if they're not working on essays this month. You can read the entire essay online at Identity Theory.

Rough starts the essay saying she wants to speed through her walk because she has an essay she wants to work on when she gets home, but then her inner essayist reminds her of what a favorite writer, Brenda Ueland, said about walking:
“‘When I walk grimly and calisthenically,’” I recite, “‘just to get exercise and get it over with, to get my walk out of the way, then I find that I have not been re-charged with imagination. For the following day when I try to write there is more of the meagerness than if I had not walked at all. But if when I walk I look at the sky or the lake or the tiny, infinitesimally delicate, bare, young trees, or wherever I want to look, and my neck and jaw are loose and I feel happy and say to myself with my imagination, “I am free,” and “There is nothing to hurry about,” I find then that thoughts begin to come to me in their quiet way.’”
Bravo, says the Essayist with brisk applause.
The essay continues in this manner with Rough thinking about the essay in one way and her inner essayist coming out to remind her of what Brenda Ueland said about writing. I love Rough's description of her inner essayist, and how she treats her like a frenemy in the essay. At one point two other walkers are giggling and Rough thinks they are laughing at her inner essayist because "she is wearing ruffled gauntlets under a purple cape pinned by an enormous brooch. But it turns out they don’t even notice us. Between hysterical gasps, they cough out words to each other."

Rough gets excited about the idea of her essay and begins to think about who will buy it, even though she hasn't put a word on the page yet. Her inner essayist comes in here as well, asking her how she can think about such a thing when she doesn't even know what she is making yet. I think all writers experience this. Our excitement about what we're writing makes us have so much faith in it and we think about where we will take it. But then we end up writing for that person we want to take it to, rather than writing the essay for itself.

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Awesome Essays: Walking With an Essayist + writing