I have not much pleasure in writing these Essays, or in reading them afterwards; though I own I now and then meet with a phrase that I like, or a thought that strikes me as a true one. But after I begin them, I am only anxious to get to the end of them, which I am not sure I shall do, for I seldom see my way a page or even a sentence beforehand; and when I have as by a miracle escaped, I trouble myself little more about them.
…For person to read his own works over with any great delight, he ought first to forget that he ever wrote them.
— William Hazlitt, “On the Pleasure of Painting,” Table-Talk
This rings true to me. I’m rarely ever satisfied with a post immediately after completing it; I find myself looking at the finished product, wondering how, out of what seemed like such endless potential, this should end up being the best I could do. The thoughts swarm my brain like gnats, but my attempts to swat them down onto the page involve a lot of empty flailing.
A couple weeks ago, I thought it might make a nice Christmas gift if I were to collect some of my favorite writings and have them printed in hardback to give to my parents, who will be especially delighted because they’ve always urged me to make something of my writing ability, but have no idea that I’ve actually done so. (Granted, it’s not like I’m producing lit-rah-chur here, but parents tend to be an easy audience to impress, especially when you’ve lowered expectations beforehand.) Lulu.com makes little projects like that easy and affordable, so I set about reading over every single thing I’ve written, collecting a first cut to be whittled down later.
Well, my earliest attempts make me cringe now, of course. It seems that it took me about two solid years before I started to write anything worth keeping, and a couple more before I started to hit my stride. At that point, I started to be occasionally impressed by an insight or a turn of phrase that I had completely forgotten about. In the last few years, the problem became one of motivation rather than ability, as social justice fanaticism became the ever-rising sea level of online dialogue, forcing us recusants to scramble for the isolated peaks of higher ground where we could attempt to scratch out some sort of intellectual sustenance from the rocky soil. However hard the labor may have been at times, the fruits taste that much sweeter now, as I finally start to get a clearer vision of what I can aspire to, and where I can look for inspiration. I find it much easier to forgive my inability to say everything perfectly on demand — there will be other chances in the future. Ah, hindsight — both the torment and the solace of an amateur writer.