Thursday, January 7, 2010

Odd as it may seem, I actually enjoy typing out endnotes for these essays I've been writing. There's something soothing yet satisfying about citation. I don't especially enjoy research, but I do like a clear and well-balanced note, with every comma and colon judiciously placed and including just enough information for clarity without the clutter of extraneous material. My pleasure in a good endnote is certainly the residue of too many years spent copyediting other people's notes. At least in academic books, notes tend to be either clotted, repetitive, and messy (every single reprint date, every single city in which the publisher has a branch office) or shot through with vital and mysterious holes (so who is the author of this piece? and when was it published? and does it have a name?). Either way, the copyeditor does a lot of cursing.

After my week of enthusiastic writing, the Millbank essay has reached the tweaking stage of revision. I've just finished the notes. Now, after I feed the chickens, take the poodle snowshoeing, mix up bread dough, eat some leftover apple pie, and read a few pages of Iris Murdoch's The Sea, the Sea, I'll sit down with the manuscript and focus not so much on content as on sentence rhythm, word repetition, noun-pronoun balance, etc. Of course, content corrections will arise in the meantime. For me, a clunky sentence is almost always a clue to bad thinking, or missing material, or extraneous information.

I like this tweaking stage: it's preoccupying, in the way a crossword puzzle is preoccupying. It requires me to be clever, not brilliant. Sometimes, during the earlier stages of creation, I feel like my brain is taunting me: "ha, ha, you're not smart enough." It's exhausting and unnerving to try to follow new, possibly idiotic, possibly not idiotic thoughts and patterns and arguments while your own brain is peppering you with buckshot. Sometimes I look back at a poem or a chapter and wonder how I survived long enough to finish it.

And then there's publication, a whole different rat's nest. Soon I'll need to start thinking about who might want to read this essay. At the moment I'm feeling rather ambivalent about submitting it to anyone. I'm not sure why. I suppose I'm making the assumption that literary journals won't necessarily be interested in a piece about a patently unliterary book. Yet another battle to fight with my brain.

Dinner tonight: spaghetti with sauce bolognese, new bread, cucumbers, lemon pudding.

No comments: