Sunday, March 27, 2005

The neurosurgeon writes

In Ian McEwan's new novel, Saturday, narrator Henry Perowne is a London neurosurgeon at the peak of his powers. Yet, he is also a writer, not of fiction (which he disdains --to great effect-- when he discusses the reading lists his poet daughter gives him), but of medical notes. Here he describes an annoying attack of writer's stumble:

"What dragged him back was an unfamiliar lack of fluency. He prides himself on speed and a sleek, wry style. It never needs much forethought --typing and composing are one. Now he was stumbling. And though the professional jargon didn't desert him --it's second nature-- his prose accumulated awkwardly. Individual words brought to mind unwieldly objects --bicycles, deckchairs, coat hangers-- strewn across his path. He composed a sentence in his head, then lost it on the page, or typed himself into a grammatical cul-de-sac and had to sweat his way out. Whether this debility was the cause or the consequence of fatigue he didn't pause to consider. He was stubborn and pushed himself to the end." (p21)

I like this image of writer's stumble, not block. I think that when one tries to write that is what most often happens, we fumble around and stumble against all sorts of obstacles, from perfectionism to anxiety to a surplus of ideas (not necessarily good ones)...

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