Things I think about when procrastinating

I’ve been thinking about sculpture recently.  When I worked in development at McColl Center for Visual Art, the artists I liked to watch work and hear speak about their work were the sculptures.  The ones who took hard, inert objects and turned them into something beautiful.  There was something about what they talked about and how they talked about it that appealed to me.

The more I work on revising this book, the more I understand that writing (all art for that matter) is as much sculpting (particularly clay work) as it is anything else.  You take this inert clump of something that has sprung from your mind that has some vague outline of something potentially artistic and you work at it.  You shave off parts here, you add parts there, and you shape it into something you can eventually stand to look at and show others.

My favorite piece of American literature is The Great Gatsby (no I haven’t seen the current movie incarnation and may never after reading the reviews).  Everyone always talks about the closing and being “borne back ceaselessly into the past.”  It is brilliant and one of the greatest final sections in history.  However, that isn’t my favorite passage.

My favorite passage is in the first chapter when Nick goes to dinner with Tom, Daisy, and Jordan.  He and Tom walk in on Daisy and Jordan lounging in the afternoon heat.  In one paragraph, 117 words he completely describes and evokes this world Nick and eventually Gatsby will crash into with such beautiful and poetic language that I read that section over and over again and type it out verbatim at least once a year in hopes something of that genius flows into my fingers.

The point I’m getting to is this, how many passes did it take Fitzgerald to get that paragraph to the fine point it is for publication?  How much of the basic idea was there in the first pass?  How many passes did it take him to get the color scheme right?  How many times did he write it and rewrite until he got the final line, “Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.”  Five, ten, one hundred times?

We all like to think of the exciting life of the author, especially authors from the romanticized time of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Joyce.  We like to think of them swashbuckling their way through all these brilliant short stories and books and not about all the long hours of striving to find the perfect combination of words that would describe something perfectly and sing like poetry.

Thinking about writing a book the sheer size of Ulysses gives me a headache.  It is amazing the stamina physically as well as mentally it took to write one draft and then keep chipping away and chipping away until there stood this monument to 20th century literature.

With that, I’m off to start again with my hammer and chisel.  Another pass at the first chapter of this thing I wrote begins again.

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