Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Messy Business


The word has cropped up several times recently in connection with writing, thanks to a letter from a current student, a conversation with a Vermont MFA grad whose first book is about to be published, and an email from a Hamline MFA student researching writers’ work habits for a thesis. So I’ve been thinking about messiness.

Writing is messy. Not just the papers scattered over my desk (anyone else remember the future paperless society we should be living in now?) but also the whole messy process, from diving into the chaos of our lives to find an idea, shaping that idea into some kind of story, and seeing the story differently over and over and over again as we revise. I’ve just finished the umpteenth deep revision of Supertruck. This story now comes in at just under 400 words, and yet perhaps the only constant words in all the revisions are “Supertruck” and “the.”

Writing is anti-entropic, creating order out of the chaos of the universe. Hard as it is to do some days, we need to trust the messiness of the process. I take heart from William Saroyan, who said that writing was the hardest way he knew to earn a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators.

Wrestling alligators. Now that’s messy.


  1. The best way to wrestle an alligator is to turn around and run. I know, I have done it.

    The best way to wrestle a manuscript is to jump straight in, flail your arms about until you get it by the neck, then shake it into submission. With any luck the manuscript will turn into a cuddly kitten (not the kind that needs a diaper). I have done this as well, and personally I quite prefer it.

  2. Thanks, Phyllis & Lisa ... I'm jumping back into a BIG OLD MESS this morning. I think I'd rather be running from the alligators.

  3. Another vote for alligators ...