Yesterday afternoon I finished a first draft of a paper I am to give on November 23rd. The respondent needs a version of it tomorrow.
I am never happy with my first draft, but am always exceedingly glad to have produced it. I experience a kind of pressure as the time to write draws nigh. I have generally done the prep work well in advance: read relevant texts, read texts about the texts, thought through it all to the point that a germ of an idea arrives. I review my notes, looking for possible themes, pondering alternative points of entry, imagining how my incipient idea would hold up against the critiques that are sure to come from the floor. The pressure takes the form of anxiety: time to write.
The experience of writing varies from paper to paper. Some papers flow effortlessly. Some are grindingly difficult – every word needing to be wrestled into place. Most papers land somewhere in between. But one thing invariably happens: I begin writing with a thesis in mind, and the thesis gets a twist in the writing. It seems that there are ideas I have, and then there are ideas that have me. The transition from the former to the latter involves putting these ideas to paper. Some ideas will not countenance their concretization in the form I propose. Generally, in reworking the saying of the idea, the idea says something new and a slight – although often significant – shift occurs. This often makes me chuckle, and brings me a measured amount of joy. Rather like the first fervent pull of a good beer or the weighty sip of single malt, this moment gives me pause.
Writing at its best is really a lot like drinking (you choose the beverage). There is the thought of what it will taste like – maybe even well formed by virtue of memory. But the initial swallow? Well that is something altogether unique and shaped by the convergence of any number of factors: How thirsty am I? Who quaffs along with me? What’s the weather outside? Inside? Was my drink properly brewed? On and on it goes. Every first draught is unique, even if not earth-shattering. But there is a joy in the expectation of discovery and that mirrors, in a fashion, the process of writing.
I think this experience is what makes writing addictive. The arrival of an idea in the moment is exhilarating, even while I realize that most often this inspiration is not of the highest order. All the same, I am too bewitched by the pen to gainsay that experience in whatever degree it offers itself. Writing, in this sense, seems to be life writ small: the wonder of discovery as delight writes itself into our efforts to say something intelligent, or beautiful, or inspiring, or any combination of the above.