Written work

Tuesday 3rd May 2011

WORK is getting in the way of the work I’d like to be putting into this work, making me work longer hours to avoid using the same words twice in the same sentence. I think I’d better start eating whole Mars bars, instead of the customary two-thirds.

Thornton Wilder thought writers should have mnemonic devices to get them going on a day’s work, but I’ve forgotten what mnemonic means. Wilder also claimed that Ernest Hemingway once told him he sharpened twenty pencils before starting work each day. When asked if this was true, Hemingway replied:

“I don’t think I ever owned twenty pencils at one time. Wearing down seven number-two pencils is a good day’s work.”

Graham Greene, according to Michael Korda, used a small black leather notebook and a black fountain pen. Each day he would rise early, write exactly five hundred words, then stop – often in the middle of a sentence – before announcing:

“That’s it, then. Shall we have breakfast?”

You may think I’m cheating a bit today, dear reader, by borrowing anecdotes I’ve heard before, but, as Igor Stravinsky observed, in 1930…

“A good composer does not imitate; he steals.”

…proving his point by recycling T S Eliot, who’d remarked, ten years earlier:

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.”

Forgive me, then, if I do some mild pilfering this week, when other deadlines press and I shall be hosting poetry events at the Swindon Festival of Literature. Besides, I need to have a few pieces in hand for the week following, when I journey beyond mainland Britain for the first time since 1982 – by ferry to the Bailiwick of Guernsey, there to inflict ‘Emergency Poet on Call’ street performances on innocent islanders.

The sea and distant horizons are intrinsic to the opening passage of the tale that will occupy these pages in the absence of any more immediate material.

Expect to be gripped by the forthcoming serialisation of a work written by a writer whose most recent work includes endless hours editing one of his finest works.

Er, me.

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