I usually start out with a problem. I usually start out with a question I'm trying to answer. I seldom start out knowing what my idea is. I discover that in the process of assembling the stories, or they allow me to discover it because they've already assembled themselves.And later,
The images have already coalesced in my imagination and built up enough energy that they do what the Jungians call breaking the threshold of consciousness. And I have to pay attention to the images. They are presenting me with the thing I need to figure out. So I have to start with the image that's bugging me the most.
The joy and the value of the familiar essay is that it operates under the requirement that we deliberately see the writer's mind in motion. It is an illusion of the highest artistic order that we are actually seeing in the final form of that essay all of the writer's mind in motion. There are lots of things that get subtracted. There's a lot of shaping that goes on, but the requirement is that we retain the mind's movement, the reflection of it, so that we create the illusion that the listener, the reader, is actually getting to see the mind figuring out whatever it's figuring out. And the mind's got to be trying to figure out something other than itself.