I've come to the conclusion that something I remember reading long ago is absolutely right: that to write is one of the best ways to discover what you think. My recent excursion into the world inhabited by columnists and professional essayists has thus far been a double learning experience that has me practically jumping out of my skin with excitement, even glee.
After embarking on the unknown waters of a subject I think I have either some knowledge or an opinion of, I often suddenly realize neither is what I thought when I started to tap the keyboard. Like any other college graduate, or even a lucky high school graduate, I was taught to develop a premise and outline the argument, and arrive at a conclusion. You couldn't take an essay exam without that. Now I've found out how much more revealing (and how much more fun!) it is to begin and let the devil take the hindmost, as my father used to say.
Which reminds me of another gem dropped into one of my lectures in college, to the effect that the really important stuff isn't in the instructor's notes, but in what the lecturer called the obiter dicta. Yes, I know, practically nobody is taught Latin any more, so I'll translate: it's in the parenthetical comments, the throwaway lines that an attentive student picks up. It's those that will matter ten or fifty years later. They're like the discoveries I've been making as I try putting down some point I think I want to present, only to discover either that it's turned into a different point altogether, or that it has a whole dimension that hadn't entered my head until I found the words in front of me on the screen! It's the remarks that aren't in the script and find their way out that say much more than I realized I had in mind. Serendipity for sure.