Sunday, June 29, 2008

Quote of the Day

When you burn manuscripts, take the advice of an old experienced man. Read everything that you burn. We used to do that in the House of Art. The manuscripts of the Serapion Brothers were initially read by the fire, and this isn't a bad reader for a start.
The number of so-called drafts is unusually high, especially when the drafts are drafts of thought.

Thoughts are wordless, observed Einstein, and for that reason the thinker is taken by surprise when he finds the answer to some mystery out of thin air.

The mysteries of drafts are unfathomable. It's as if mankind thinks in hypothetical ways. The answers are hidden in the already finished works, but have not yet exposed themselves.
--Viktor Shklovsky, Energy of Delusion

I'd forgotten how intense novel-writing is. Not really forgotten, in the sense that I could have told anyone who asked me what it's like, working on a novel. Forgotten, rather, in the sense of being taken by surprise by the intensity, in the same way in which I'm always taken by surprise when the reality of pain suddenly asserts itself at the moment the autohypnotic suggestion that keeps the pain of adhesions I've had since abdominal surgery 28 years ago suddenly wears off and reminds me of what I'd forgotten. I usually go several years without needing to renew the suggestion, and years of the pain's absence eventually makes me "forget" its visceral reality. The last time I worked on this novel was in December 2006, during a two-week retreat at the wonderful Whiteley Center on San Juan Island. And the reason I haven't worked on it since then? Simple: when I'm working on a novel, there's little room in my head for anything other than the novel, which means flaking off on Aqueduct.

As an intensity addict, I can only love being in a state of Total Engagement. But there's a downside: I often can't turn off my mind long enough to drop into sleep. Last night I kept getting out of bed to run into my office to scribble text in the dark while the words were fresh. (Foolishly, I thought that if I didn't turn on a light (or the computer, to write with the keyboard) I'd have a better chance at being finally able to sleep.) It was after my third such foray that I noticed a brightness coming through a northern window. I couldn't remember whether the moon is ever in that part of the sky around the summer solstice, but I rather doubted it. Peering out, I realized it was dawn. A big disappointment, since I knew I wouldn't be falling asleep anytime soon...

Operating on a pittance of sleep today, when I read the passage above, I told myself to take it as a warning to go easy on the deletions until I'm a little less sleep-lagged. I've been slashing and adding all week to the first half of the book.

Of course Shklovsky's citation of Einstein is spot-on. One thinks one knows nothing, but somehow, in the process of putting words on the page, an idea pops into existence, as though from nowhere.

Writing is a lot of things. But the best thing it is is magic.

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