Essay ideas arise through practiced close attention. I hold my reaction to a thing as both valid and questionable, and proceed to minutely interrogate. An encounter with Jesus Christ’s Instagram account can be the spark, or the depictions of black and trans characters in a new (much lauded) book. A line of thought can unexpectedly link the protests in Charlottesville with the advent of the total solar eclipse of 2017.
The process starts: I note an idea and, when it’s a good one, everything I do kicks the concept around. Listening to podcasts on the bus to UC Berkeley’s J-school where I’m a Master of Journalism candidate. Conversing with the little kids I’ve nannied about their future careers as teachers, as morticians (really, this is what one wants to become). Observing as my husband tenderly cares for his cacti and other plants. The idea is shaped and reshaped in my mind, a snag to be picked at and pulled apart, added to and amended as I encounter my daily life.
It sticks with me until I’m forced to get it out onto the page, to start digesting it – rearranging the words, doing research and reading on the subject, and editing for continuity, for readability.
My process doesn’t differ greatly when applied to other kinds of projects – covering crime for Oakland North; reporting on birth inequities for the East Bay Express; writing book pieces for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Anomaly, and Gulf Coast; conducting interviews with authors and artists for Guernica, the Columbia Journal, and BUST.com; or even working on my novel.