Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Finished a draft of my new TLS review essay

I have been going round and round on it for days, finally had a day with few other commitments, got up at 6 am and stayed at the computer at it, breaking for a meeting at school, then back again and just finished the draft at 10 pm. It has many problems, but the biggest problem is that it is 5,000 words where it can only be, max, 3000 and preferably 2500. Normally I would throw myself onto my editor and ask him to zap it, but he has some family things going on, and I have decided that blogging tends to make my writing weak and lazy - undisciplined - both in the sense of writing short little unargued blips, and in the sense of writing too long and not editing down. So I am going to do it myself. Just not tonight.

(Update. So, I have cut it down to just over 3500 words - not short enough yet, but I have to say it is a much stronger piece for the cutting. I have left in a couple of sentences of baroque complexity that would probably seem way over the top to most readers, but that's a deliberately aesthetic decision, not just lack of discipline. Maybe. I will rework it some more, cut it some more, and send it on Sunday night.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Baroque complexity for detail and hedged accuracy, or for beauty?

Perhaps the most annoying thing about writing is that it is hopelessly and incurably linear. Ideas, however, are not linear: each is related to a multitude of others by innumerable variations of causation, analogy, history, memory, feeling, etc. You can hardly say one thing - especially when it will endure academic scrutiny - without wanting to bring in ten other things that qualify, or reinforce, or elaborate, or clarify the original simple thing.

Alas for the mess that makes!

But sometimes, if you are feeling especially brilliant, or if you are willing to put in more effort than most of us have time for, it is possible, very briefly, to defeat the linearity of writing.

Consider this, the climactic paragraph of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings:

From all his policies of fear and treachery, from all his stratagems and wars his mind shook free; and throughout his realm a tremor ran, his slaves quailed, and his armies halted, and his captains suddenly steerless, bereft of will, wavered and despaired. For they were forgotten. The whole mind and purpose of the Power that wielded them was now bent with overwhelming force upon the Mountain. At his summons, wheeling with a rending cry, in a last desperate race there flew, faster than the winds, the Nazgul, the Ringwraiths, and with a storm of wings they hurtled southwards to Mount Doom.

The main verb and (even more so) the subject of that last sentence are so long delayed that you are held in tension reading all of the descriptive clauses before at last they come, and all of the accumulated meaning hits at once - not, as in short sentences, in discrete and broken and monotonous tidbits, but in a single powerful moment.

It's brilliant! It's gorgeous! Would God I could do it effortlessly myself.