My crazy talented cousin Katie is having a magical experience in Italy right now. She’s setting up shop in a museum—easel, canvas, paints and all—during its closed day and painting the Renaissance masters, learning their techniques by going looking, looking, looking, and doing.
For years and years, since AP Nelson in high school, I’ve disassembled the “finished” works of a great many masterful writer. As a child, I copied books by type and by hand (because kids who are future writers are a weird lot). As an adult, I’ve typed long passages just to see what the words feel like under my hands.
Now, I know exactly nothing about painting—Renaissance or otherwise—but I like to imagine that a painting—especially original and within reach—is more like a marked manuscript than an endlessly recreated typeset publication. Writing is revision and while the published work feels beautiful against my fingertips, I wonder what it would be like to take pads and pens and write Mrs. Dalloway alongside Woolf. To have ideas and change my mind. To scratch in the better word choice.
If you copy a painting, do you copy the mistakes hidden in the oil crevices? Do you work so your own match that of the artist before you?
|—||Louise Fitzhugh, Harriet the Spy|
Having a prepping-to-take-over-the-world kind of night by updating my publications list and collecting PDFs for a digital portfolio. You know what? It’s been a pretty good couple of years. I could probably find a million people who have done a lot more, but let’s celebrate here instead.
My high school journalism teacher once taught me to get twice as much information as I think I’ll need and the story will write itself. I’ve been an ardent follower of that advice for fifteen years, but 7,300 words of interview notes for a 250-word story is probably a bit excessive.
Harriet looked at him with wonder. He was a writer. A real writer. What did he think? What was in his head? She forgot Sport altogether as she stared at Mr. Rocque. She couldn’t resist a question for the notebook. Would he answer something profound?
'What does it feel like to get paid for what you write?' What would he say? She waited breathlessly.
'It’s heaven, baby, sheer heaven.'
|—||Harriet the Spy|
1) Clean all the photos off your phone
2) Convince yourself that your audio interview files are nonexistent and/or inaudible
3) Panic until you get heartburn
4) Down a glass of water
5) Refresh Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Feedly
6) Stare at the notes you took during the interview
8) Mint is good for heartburn, right? Eat mint chocolate cookie ice cream.
9) Cry about how you’ll never be able to do this and the last twenty years of your life have been a series of terrible decisions that continually lead to moments exactly like this one
10) Write the stupid story already
11) Feel great and wonder what all the fuss was for. Immediately forget everything that just happened so it’s a complete surprise next week when it happens all over again
I’ve been up since 4:30 this morning and been at work for the better part of the day/night since five (and there I remain) and all I want to do is funnel this VERY JAZZED WRITING ENERGY back at this story.
What I’m really saying I guess is that it’s going to be a long night, and I’m really sorry if you have to interact with me tomorrow.
That thing where you check your word count half a dozen times without actually having written or deleted anything since the last time you checked.
One hundred years ago this month, Virginia Woolf turned 31. It would be another two years before she published her first novel, The Voyage Out. And another two after that before the founding of Hogarth Press.
Just a little New Year’s reminder to self—and others—when thinking about writers who accomplished most, if not all, of their work (and life) prior to turning 30. (I’m looking at you, Sylvia Plath.)