Monday, March 16, 2009

Emancipating Beauty

Well I guess that your parents
must have raised themselves a strictly pious daughter
cuz you move through this crowd just like parted water.
Oh, you dress so nice—you dress to kill;
they drop like flies, but who’s the funeral for?
- After Hours, Phantom Planet
It’s happened to all of us. We’ll be reading a book, or listening to a song, or watching a movie, and a line will jump out at us. And it’s not necessarily that it’s funny or poignant or well-put. It could be all or none of those things. But they stick with us… perfect metaphors, executed perfectly.

Sometimes they’re short and to the point, like one of my favorite lines from Panic! At the Disco’s Northern Downpour: “You clicked your heels and wished for me.” There’s a whole world in that one sentence; it tells an entire story in eight words.

Other times, they’re rather longer, and considerably more famous. An obvious example:

“ Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, strech out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
- The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
These passages impress us, inspire us, become a part of us… and as authors, they frustrate us to no end.

I want oneeeeeeeeeeee.

These little gems are products of our own talents, but unfortunately, our own talents are fickle, easily distracted creatures. One almost never gets poetry out of a first draft—it can take two, three revisions to reach a manuscript that manages to tread water as legitimately good, let alone great or inspired.

So how do they—the big They, all those other authors out there whom we want to emulate and wish we could be/be friends with—do it?

The answer is so stupidly simple that I kind of want to throttle it with my bare hands: they do it the same way we do. Hard work. Editing.

Which isn’t to say that just anyone could craft the next Great Gatsby if only they’ll revise enough. The good news is that editing is a skill, and that writing is a talent. Unfortunately, the bad news is that, y’know… editing is a skill, and writing is a talent.

And I think that’s what separates the good authors—or those who will become good authors—from those who aren’t. That they HAVE something to say… even if they don’t know how just yet. I keep thinking about that story about Michelangelo—how he said that his sculptures were trapped inside his marble, and all he was doing was freeing them.

We take our chisels to our word processors and we chip away at unnecessary phrases and ugly blocks of prose and then, eventually, we find out whether it was worth it: either we find a work of art at the center, or we keep cutting away until all that’s left is dust.

And so, like Michelangelo, I’ll keep at it with my hammer and chisel until I get to David.

[Yeah, I can’t do it. I can’t just end a blog with a conclusion. Tell me what you think! Agree? Disagree? Comments are excellent!]