Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Butfirst Disease

Rudyard Kipling is said to have written "How the Whale Got His Throat" in three sleepless and famished days. It is my favorite of his ten Just So Stories, a children's tale, a political satire, and a cry against powers-that-be. And it's short, not even 1,000 words.

My friend Jane Feather, the best-selling author of some 40 books, routinely writes 2000 words a day, which may explain why more than 10 million copies of her works are in print.

Me, I doubt I've ever written more than 1,500 at one sitting because I suffer from butfirst disease. I am full of good intentions from the moment I wake up, and my promise to write write write until my finger tips are bloody from hitting the keys is a heartfelt one, but first...

Well, but first I have to feed the cat, make my bed, water the plants, take a shower, drink two large espressos,  sweep the kitchen free of the detritus aforementioned cat brought in and see if the pumpernickel bread is still edible. I have to look at the paper because perhaps something has occurred that may influence my life. This hasn't happened in a decade or more, but you never know. There is email correspondence,  text messages sent to me while I was asleep, and voices to reckon with on the answering machine. Then there is a laundry to do, a lawn to mow or a driveway to shovel free of snow, things to take to the post office, a 12-step meeting. At noon, I have lunch with friends, and at two there are bills to pay. So I am always eager and willing to write, but first...

Kipling, of course, had servant to do his butfirsts, and I do not, but I'm almost certain that even with a retinue of butlers, maids, chauffeurs and cooks, my habits would not change. I would find things to do and gather enough impediments to delay sitting down and writing for the better part of a morning or afternoon.

The strange thing is that I love writing. It's what I do best, and possibly the only talent I know for sure I possess. There are few things I find more pleasurable than spending two or three hours at a clip establishing a character, creating a dialog or defining a scene. It's really a shame I don't do it more often. Too many butfirsts.

Even as I write this, I'm thinking I should really take down the hummingbird vine that is overpowering my gutters. Also, I should hardboil some eggs for later, because if I wait too long to boil them, they'll be too hot to eat by the time I'm ready to eat. It all makes perfect sense.

Lately, at the suggestion of editors and friends, I've been redoing a novel I wrote several years ago and have not managed to sell. The book follows the adventures of a newly married couple in Paris in 1920, when the center of the artistic universe was in one neighborhood, Montparnasse. The problem with the book, I think, is that I put too much into it. I always want readers to have ahha moments when they read my stuff; I want them to be amused and amazed, and so with Montparnasse  I think I have created a literary turducken. I have famous writers, painters, composers and playwrights elbowing each other for space in the pages. The result is that the ahha moments get in the way of the plot, which is moderately complex as is.

Once again, though, the butfirst disease strikes. I will do anything to avoid this rewrite. Part of it, of course, is that I do not want to take a hatchet to my deathless prose and in fact, I am suddenly realizing that even writing this blog is simply another avoidance technique.


All right. Montparnasse, page 116. Gotta edit Ernest Hemingway out.  I only put him in to show people how smart I am. Bye, Ernie. James Joyce to follow.



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