rumination about writing (& revising) essays, before/during a pandemic

Below is some process-related rumination about an essay I wrote, which details an experience from 2018. (The “her” mentioned below is a person I met and subsequently wrote about.) In late 2020, the essay was accepted for publication, and was published in summer 2021. It’s hard to imagine that it was just over 2 years between the event and the acceptance, because of how different everything became. Looking at the essay again—mid-pandemic—brought up thoughts about how weird a gig it is, to write essays. I still feel like a novice, because the essay was my second form, after fiction. I didn’t study what it is to be an essayist (whatever that means) and the requisite sharing/exposing of self without the veil of fiction (even with a sculpted persona at the helm). I find it interesting to ponder/obsess about the intricacies involved. Thought this bit might be worth sharing.

Written on November 21, 2020 (from morning pages)
I started looking at the essay and wow, it’s kind of badly overwritten. It’s sort of cringey! I mean I need to pare down some of the language. I’ve gone really far in making it way too articulate or maybe it’s skirting clever. I don’t like the voice somehow. It’s weird that I am having such a strong reaction to it. I just need to make it good enough & send it back but it’s really hard. I would revise the whole thing (and maybe I will). Maybe it could be that it just feels self-indulgent because it’s pre-COVID, maybe I just need to let it be pre-COVID and not sweat it. It just sounds really full of myself, or something. I think I need to talk to MT about it. It will be helpful to sort it out. I guess I should have looked it over before I sent it. I’ll see if I can just simplify the sentences. Part of it is that with an essay, I captured & canned the feelings and specifics at the time, and I really would write it differently now, I think—? Maybe I can find a way through it without being weirded out by the finished product. Anyway, we’ll see. I wish I had learned her name, or something—I wasn’t really even processing it all, when I met them, how big a deal their story would be. And I don’t want to sensationalize their story, like make it into “disaster porn” or appropriate it. Anyway I’ll just look at the sentences & try to make it better. What’s weird, of course, is that the (name of magazine) will publish it, so in that way, I’ll be exposing the younger me as narrator—it just feels weird. Maybe it’s just the problem of an old essay. Maybe I should put the lens I have now on it, if that doesn’t throw things off. I feel like it needs a date stamp or something. I wonder if that’s relevant. I mean do I need to make clear that it’s pre-COVID-19? I’ll see what I can make of it so it’s still relevant. Or at least so I can stand the sentences & the voice. Such a weird-ass gig. I’m glad the editor accepted it & I will do my best. I know there’s something real in it, and maybe I will work The Body Keeps The Score back into it. I’ll see if that paragraph will work again—I liked having it in there. For one thing it shows a bit about how trauma works, and I think that’s useful. God, this is hard. I mean the decisions & lenses and all that. Having experienced whatever we have experienced, then the work of sorting it, making sense or at least a little bit of order, or observations about it. It’s actually fairly scientific. I don’t know if others think of it that way,  but it makes sense to me. I mean to think of scientific inquiry.