Long before Michael Chabon was considered one of the leading writers of “literary” fiction, I discovered–and devoured–his Mysteries of Pittsburgh which I consider one of the best novels of the past quarter-century, more worthy of acclaim than his more recent stuff. His moving conclusion is a stunningly beautiful piece of writing.
So, when I learned he’d be reading from his next novel Wonder Boys at a Washington bookstore (when I lived across the river in Arlington), I rushed to hear him speak, eager to ask him how he wrote that conclusion. He said that once he had completed the narrative, he just wrote the ending. He didn’t think too much about it. That was what he had to say. So, he said it. He just wrote it.
Sometimes, it’s like that with writing. The greatest things we have to say just happen. They seem to write themselves.
Yesterday, as I was working on a piece for Pajamas about a gay bashing ABC was staging at a New Jersey sports bar, I was struggling with finding a good approach to the story. The writing trickled out and I sought refuge (and respite) in an e-mail exchange with a critic of this blog.
Finally, I finished all but the conclusion, not quite sure how to wrap it up. So, I printed up what I had and set off for the gym where I pounded out my frustrations on the Stairmaster. After returning here and fixing dinner, I popped in Fanny and Alexander, then once I had cleaned up and dashed off a quick post, I sat down to edit my print-out.
Perhaps because of the difficulty I had had writing the piece, I was surprised at how happy I was with what I had written. When I had read all that there was, I picked up my fountain pen and, in a matter of minutes, easily wrote the conclusion that had eluded me earlier in the day.
As I finished the first draft of the piece, something struck me, on how blogging has changed the way I write. While I read through each post after I have typed it out, I very rarely print out my drafts to edit by hand as I did with my papers in graduate school.
Then, I would read the hard copies through several times, often writing out full paragraphs by hand to insert later into the Word document. One time, in a paper for my “Psyche and Nature” course, I wrote out three full paragraphs while editing. It was that passage my professor singled out as the best in the paper, was indeed the passage where I had offered my most original insight, the passage most worthy of praise.
All this made me wonder if we lose something in blogging by rushing to complete our posts, by not reviewing them by hand, that maybe in giving them a little more time and considering them in a different “medium,” we might better flesh out our arguments and might more regularly offer more original insights.
Just a thought.