Wednesday, June 4, 2008

On writing

In the preface to Lake Wobegon Days, Garrison Keillor tells of how the original idea for the book was an unfinished story he was working on when his briefcase was stolen in a train station. It was never recovered, and he found himself unable to recreate the story as he remembered it. The more time passed, the better the lost story seemed, and he never felt the book was nearly as good.

I often have the same experience when writing. An idea is never as good as when it first occurs to me, and if I can't manage to get all my thoughts down in writing while they are still fresh in my mind, the eventual product always seems to pale in comparison to the original idea. My previous entry, which was finally published on June 3, 2008, was begun on August 26, 2007. At that time, I typed up the few key points that had occurred to me, and was able to envision them fully developed, but didn't have time to write them down that way. As the weeks passed, the original fervor that had surrounded the ideas in my mind began to wane, and while I'd try to work on the post now and then, the results never seemed up to snuff. Finally, when I had more time to blog again, I realized that my view of that post as an important one, and its being unfinished, was keeping me from starting to post more often again, and I forced myself to finish it. But in my mind, it is not nearly as good as it could have been, or would have been if I had written it the day the idea came to me.

I sometimes think the mark of distinction between a merely good writer and a great writer is how clear, detailed, and permanent his ideas are in his head before they have been written down. I remember how astounded I was when in college I first read Wordsworth's note to his Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, nonchalantly mentioning that he had composed the entire 150+ line poem in his mind over the course of 4-5 days while on a walking tour, and not written any of it down until it was finished. That is the mark of genius--something most of us cannot even imagine being able to do.

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