“I hate writing, I love having written.” —Dorothy Parker
A couple weeks ago, I traveled to Terre Haute, Indiana, to participate in Arts Illiana’s WordFest. Jason Lee Brown put together a panel called “The Creative Process, Midwestern Style,” and four contributors to New Stories from the Midwest 2011—Bonnie Nadzam, Ian Stansel, Beth Meyer, and myself—sat down to discuss the Midwest and the role it plays in our creative process.
Then, today, I grabbed an old Whitelines notebook to take to the coffee shop so I could work on an essay, and when I got there and opened it up, I found the first draft of “An Epilogue to the Unread,” which was published back in August in the Rumpus.
Here’s an excerpt from that talk I gave a couple weeks ago:
I’m wary of making generalizations about the Midwest, because, well, I dislike a lot of the generalizations other people—particularly non-Midwesterners—make about this place. But I’m going to make two such generalizations about Midwesterners during this talk. By all means, feel free to disagree with them. The first generalization is this: We Midwesterners do not like messes. My father, who is a special case, no doubt, cleans the insides of his trashcans with Q-tips; he edges his sidewalks with a butter knife. Not all of us go to such extremes, but we do say things—quietly, under our breath—about those people who collect castaway cars and furniture and spare tires in their yards. We like order.
I am certainly guilty of this. And it’s been a hindrance to my writing, because writing is never neat and orderly. It never comes out the way it should on the first or fifth go-around. In order to create art—art, which is complicated, a little ambiguous in its take on the world, which is maybe even beautiful—I’ve learned that I’ve got to make a mess. This mess mostly litters my brainscape and my notebooks. In order to build the world of the story I’m writing, I make and remake sentences. I jot down character motivations. This takes time. It’s messy.
* * *
Despite saying all of this just a couple weeks ago, it’s still strange for me to look at the first draft of that essay, the first page of which is photographed above. Like Dorothy Parker, I much prefer having written to actually writing. One of the reasons for this: Once I have a finished product in hand, it’s easy for me to forget how rough it used to be, how hard I had to work at it to get it from that first draft to the final one.
And so, as I prepare to begin in earnest on a couple of projects, I thought I’d put this up here as a reminder to myself that the work never comes out finished the first time around. If it did, no matter how much I sometimes might like for it to, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t even bother with it in the first place.
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