An intruding task divides his attention as a freight train would divide a dirigible—if his imagination could ever position them to meet—then his start dies, all its stolen air escaping suddenly. But, when he’s successful, he stretches and stretches his opening thought, attenuating it again and again until it’s a spidery thread that can no longer carry current.
Then he turns to a new paragraph. He knows it’s a good idea to assure enough but not too much connection and to follow the figurative breath of a break with a novel direction, purpose, or voice. Association, not logic, is key. Perhaps objects that were whimsical or metaphorical in the last paragraph become more real-world in the next. He references a task he never returned to… the bookmark three quarters of the way through The Education of Henry Adams or a promise to call back immediately that, seven years later, still hasn’t been fulfilled. He doesn’t need to say how these stories apply. He trusts readers. Or they might follow a link.
The true subject, when it appears, stands apart.
And, once known, the narrative gains speed, carrying thoughts that rush after as if they were chasing the subject rather than being sucked into its wake like so many pages of discarded, dated newspapers. The pace in this portion can seem disproportionate because the word “and” dominates, and many other words that are only slight echoes of each other appear, drawing from the same store in his finite mind, seeming to put meaning aside simply to achieve sound and prod the prose by compelling it forward and forward and forward.
A satisfying lull follows. Is that the best moment for a rhetorical question? Fragment.
But the longer the writer continues, the nearer he comes to breaking back against himself, questioning what brought him here and undoing his premises. He becomes a wave in a box—any force achieved ricochets into gray static. While the effort to sort the shapes and shadows of his tiny sea might seem noble, more often the writing flirts with insincere invention. Some resourcefulness celebrates only itself.
Meanwhile, at the bottom of the document window, the word count grows. 375, 376, and little purchase or progress suggests an endgame. Ornate ideas grow more ornate. Strong and clear signals become baroque. Artifice proliferates fractally.
This cul de sac is all too familiar. The single consolation: he’s there. Having burned territory behind him, he will either escape or remain.
Thankfully, he can’t write this post again.
Then sometimes, only sometimes, desperation brings dusk. The end shows itself at last, and truth finds a way in. Watchfulness somehow lured a deeper sincerity from shadows. If he has prepared a reader well, a trap is set, a new quiet entices a strange but familiar animal into place for the essay’s final sentence. The string is taut. He finishes just before pulling the stick to bring the box down.