Friday, May 14, 2010

The Work of Writing

A friend and regular reader of this blog commented yesterday that I have posted only a couple of times in May.

He insisted he was going through withdrawal pangs. "Write something!"

"My Muse has deserted me," I said in response, both of us laughing.

My comment stuck in my head the rest of the evening and even touched my dreams, as I was cutting up and rearranging lines of poetry (someone else's, not mine) on oversized index cards. I woke with the feel of the scissors still in my hands.

Recently I was reminded that writing (indeed, any artistic endeavor) takes place not in the ethereal reaches of Art but instead in the very real daily world. During our recent Chasing Light… week, one of the events was a joint talk between Joseph Schwantner, the composer, and Robert Flanagan, a local writer and poet. Joe and Bob hit it off from the outset, and we were treated to two hours of free flowing talk about writing, composition, rhythm, music, poetry, and anything else that came to either of their minds.

Members of the audience occasionally asked questions and one attendee, a well-meaning individual who sometimes seems to stalk Culture with a baseball bat and a grim expression, asked Joe, "what inspires you to write music?"

"A signed contract and a check for one half of my commission," he quickly replied.

A frown crossed the woman's face, and she reframed the question.

"Well, what is the first step in the composition process for you?"

Joe said, "I have a deadline. And I sit at my desk every day and compose music in order to meet that deadline. It is the work I do."

There was a small sigh of disappointment from the questioner. I think she was hoping for a revelation from an Artist and instead got a working class response.

Composing is work. Writing is work.

Art is work.

Monday of this week, I ran into Bob on a downtown sidewalk. He showed me his latest draft of a short story he had mentioned that night. It had his penciled notations on every page.

"It's work, you see," he said, fanning through the pages. "People think you just sit down and the words fall out of the sky. But it's writing and rewriting and rewriting. It took me three drafts of this story to realize that one character was not who I thought it was at all."

That reminded me of the question from the session and Joe's comment that he was inspired to compose when a signed contract and check arrived. I alluded to it.

"Exactly!" Bob shouted. "That was a true answer."

Bob and I talked for awhile longer about writing - his, mine - before he went one direction with his drafts and I went another with my thoughts.

Those thoughts started to swing full circle before yesterday's jest about my Muse. One of the things Bob and I talked about in our encounter was the practice of capturing images and ideas in a notebook or folder for later use in writing. He reminded me that sometimes you go back and realize something that moved you so at the time has shriveled and should be discarded, and other times the most fleeting of notes takes on a glow of potential when you read it over later.

It is a habit I used to cultivate assiduously and one that I have found myself taking up again in recent months. Bob's comments encourage me to continue with my observations and my notes, and with my work of writing.

If I indeed have a Muse, She is Me.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

re: your last line: And that muse is the one I'd like to get to know, through your writing!

So glad you've taken up the search for inspiration, once again.