Ever since reestablishing my office at home, I have been unearthing all kinds of things. Today, for example, I found some draft material from a novel I started in grad school. I was happy that I wasn’t horrified by what I read. The overall flow is actually not bad, though there are some awkward plot twists. The voice I started to develop in grad school is there, and there are some passages I enjoy reading. Of course, there are some cringe-worthy moments. Some of my phrasing is awkward and forced, and I can either see myself pulling punches (not saying something blunt or crude when I really should have) and instead saying things in a way that is one part contrived and two parts precious.
(More on novel writing later, especially since I am diving back into National Novel Writing Month with another novel that I started in 2012 but haven’t worked on since.)
I was actually more interested and amused by a small, almost inconsequential thing I found tucked inside a copy of a book, Freelance Writing: Advice from the Pros, a tidy little paperback that I probably brought in college. I apparently had been reading it some years later, as the note was on stationery from a company I worked at in the 1980s. The note had three things written on it:
“Easy writing makes hard reading” — Ernest Hemingway
“A body in motion tends to stay in motion.” — Newton
I was prone, in those days, to write quotes down. I have found them written on note cards, on sheets of paper, and on random notepads or inside notebooks. Looking back, I was trying to use them to somehow make concrete ideas that had emerged and were very important to me. They were usually about writing, but apparently something about Newton’s First Law was especially compelling to me: at least as compelling about whether I could get overtime pay and what Hemingway thought about the writing process.
(Something about the Hemingway quote struck me as too generic, but according to at least one book, he did in fact say that. “Hemingway told Samuel Putnam in 1926 that ‘easy writing makes hard reading,’ and that he wished, if he could, to ‘strip language clean, to lay it bare down to the bone.'”)
Like old writing, old habits can sometimes embarrass one later on. Indeed, I have often cringed in the past when I found a quote that I had recorded somewhere. Then, yesterday, I was listening to a Fresh Air interview with Richard Ford, and discovered he does this, too. Terry Gross remarked on how Ford often has wonderful literary quotes seemingly on the tip of his tongue. Ford answered in the wise, warm, quirky manner I find that I enjoy almost as much as his writing.
FORD: I have an absorptive memory about things like that. I do teach literature at Columbia these days. But I – you know, I’m dyslexic, and I read really slowly. And one of the advantages of reading really slowly is things get in your brain and they stay there. And I’m not fiercely dyslexic, but I do – I do remember stuff. You know, I – if I see something that – if I read something that I think is really interesting, I’ll copy it out on a 3-by-5 card and look at it every once in a while. It just sort of reminds me of great things. It reminds me of great things that people have said. And it encourages me about literature. These are usually things that are of a literary nature, like DeLillo’s line, a concentrated form of thinking. So I don’t know if it’s that I teach literature because I do that, or I do that because I teach literature, but yes.
So I won’t fret about that old habit of mine anymore. Indeed, I should take it up again.