Thoughts on finishing an article

Phil Ford

Someone (Germaine Greer, maybe?) said that writers don't like writing, they like having written. True enough. I've been driving hard to finish an article ahead of the August 1 deadline and have just done so. I feel a certain gratification, even pleasure in having had a complicated idea and succeeded in getting most of it on the page. But mostly I just feel relief. There's a Sherlock Holmes story ("The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans") that shows Holmes working through a particularly tough problem, which even he gets slightly wrong (although he does win out in the end). It's always stuck in my mind as a model for what it's like to write anything of any length and complexity: you move in stages, fighting your way clear of one obstruction only to find that it had only hidden the next one, and on and on, solving one problem after another until the whole thing has been worked out. But while you're writing the end isn't in view. You're like Holmes, moving from clue to clue towards a solution, not merely executing a plan that's been in your mind all along. Although now that I think of it, there are a few Holmes stories like that, and a few simpler pieces I've written where I basically knew what the whole thing looked like ahead of time, and it was just a matter of writing it all down. But not larger things, like the article I just completed (weighing in at 12,000 words, including notes). "I am not aware that in all our joint researches we have ever had a
case which was more difficult to get at. Every fresh advance which we
make only reveals a fresh ridge beyond. And yet we have surely made
some appreciable progress." So says Sherlock at some point in his investigations, and I feel like that many times during the writing of this article. I've never been able to figure out how to outline drafts—I have a basic idea of where I'm going, of course, but exactly how to get there, how all the details fit together, what structure will hold them all together — I only ever discover that in writing. Which means that writing can be a little stressful, a daily wrestling with the anxiety that perhaps all the pieces won't fit together after all. But I kind of do like writing, actually, if only for the diffuse satisfaction of feeling my capacities for imagination and reason fully exercised, kneading a hard and intransigent substance into shape, hewing form out of formlessness.

There's something funny that always happened to me when I was a piano student.I had a concert coming up and I would set about a rigorous  training regimen, marshaling all my energy, coiling up for that one hour of intense mental, physical, and emotion exertion. And then my mind, body, and spirit would uncoil with alarming speed and I would always get sick the day after. (And I know I'm not the only one: a lot of my friends have had this experience.) What's funny is that this happened to me today. Now that I'm done with this article I'm just lolling around on the sofa, feeling tired and coldy and dull, but sort of pleasantly. There's a book I bought (Edmund Wilson's The American Earthquake) at the beloved Caveat Emptor that I've been saving up for when I finished my article. While I'm reading it, my daughter is playing her violin and composing a song she calls "Argentina." She's written it in a kind of tablature of violin fingerings and decorated the music with a drawing of a living room:


It's hot and sunny out and I should mow the lawn — I tend to let a lot of stuff go when I'm making the big final push on a project, and I have a bit of tidying to do this week. For today I'm happy enough on the couch, though.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
This entry was posted in Life, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Thoughts on finishing an article

  1. Ryan says:

    Congrats on finishing it up, Phil! Can’t wait to read the end product. One of these days we’ll revive amusicology…one of these days…

Comments are closed.