Have you ever heard of Piet Hein? He was a Danish engineer, inventor, scientist and poet who lived from 1905 to 1996. He wrote about seven thousand little epigrammatic poems he called “grooks”. (He once said in an interview, “If I’d known there were going to be seven thousand of them, I’d have called them something else.”)
I love the grooks; my all-time favourite one is posted on my refrigerator door. It’s called “Twin Dilemmas”, and it goes:
To many people artists seem
undisciplined and lawless.
Such laziness, with such great gifts,
seems little short of crime.
One mystery is how they make
the things they make so flawless;
another, what they’re doing with
their energy and time.
That pretty well says it all about how it’s going with The Swan Harp. It’s taking time, because I want it to be as good as it can possibly be. I’m in the process now of arranging and, yes, writing new words – twelve hundred of them on Saturday. I’m still trying to work out precisely where to start, but I think I have a good place. I’ve been so focused on the writing, however, that I’ve forgotten how much thinking this still takes.
On Thursday I started to write at the bottom of Highway 129, as usual, and ten minutes later I realized that what I really needed to do was think about the story. I closed up my laptop and put it away, and sat with my hands folded, staring into the middle distance.
“Done for the day?” David asked. (He knows better than to say things like, “Is it not coming today?” or “No inspiration today?” He knows how I feel about writers who work only when the Muse is on them.)
“No,” I said, “I have to think about it. I have to figure out where some things are going.”
“Ah,” he said, and shut up. I trained him a long time ago that thinking is as important a part of writing as writing is. There was a time when, if I stopped typing, he assumed I was available for conversation. He survived the retraining, and the scars don’t show any more.
It’s hard to take thinking time out of writing time when I’m a person who works with deadlines and schedules, and I’ve already missed two of my own deadlines. All the same, the thinking and planning is absolutely necessary. When I went back to writing on Friday, I had a much better grasp of how the story had to fit together. I’d shuffled some things, and I’d made notes about things that had to be alluded to throughout the story so that when the end came, they’d make sense.
The thing about the thinking work is that it doesn’t show the way, say, that twelve hundred new words does. But it will show in the end, because the story will be better for it.
The thing is, pace Piet Hein, it will never be flawless. Leonardo da Vinci said “No work of art is ever completed, only abandoned.” The trick is to abandon it at the best state, the closest to perfection or completion. The best stories have an inevitability to them, a feeling that this is the only way the story could have gone. That apparent flawlessness is what I want for The Swan Harp, and that’s where I’m putting my energy and time.