Maybe you remember that, a few weeks ago, I was guessing that this essay would probably be a quick and easy one to write? I take back that claim. The essay hasn't been at all easy, and certainly it hasn't been quick. Blame Christmas, yes; but also blame my own stupidity: once again, I've been trying to write around a pre-invented theme instead of figuring out my theme as I write. When will I ever learn?
Anyway, before I dive back into the murk, I'll leave you with a couple of undigested thoughts:
1. Helpful essay-revision technique: Yes, boringness can be a technical problem. When you write yourself into a dead end or fear that you're disintegrating into vapid, writer-on-high commentary, quickly chunk your paragraphs into a different order. Especially make sure that you have an entirely new opening paragraph. Don't worry about transitions. Those are easy to add later. What you want now is to open yourself up to the possibility of unexpected links between your ideas. If your first reorganization effort doesn't work, try another one. It's like playing with a Rubik's cube. You're not looking for logic here; you're looking for a coherent accident.
2. Helpful remark by Walt Whitman, useful when one is writing an essay about nineteenth-century trash literature:
The public for whom these tales are written require strong contrasts, broad effects and the fiercest kind of "intense" writing generally. . . . [Such writing] is a power in the land, not without great significance in its way, and very deserving of more careful consideration than has hitherto been accorded it.
3. A quick thought about plot: Maybe there are basically two kinds of plot-driven books. One kind: I reread and look forward to reliving every remembered nuance (e.g., Jane Austen novels). The other kind: I can reread the book 20 times and still not remember what's about to happen next (e.g., Iris Murdoch novels).
4. Literary reference to Millbank that may surprise you. I'll let you guess what book it's from: “In the dugout, Pa mended his boots while Ma read to him again the story called Millbank.”