Spillage

by James Somers, February 27, 2011

[Composed on March 12th, 2010, at 2:17 in the morning.]

I’m very tired. I’m writing, though, to keep a streak alive: one hour per day, every day. Last month I did twenty-four days in a row. Tonight will be my sixth. I’m shooting for hundreds.

Writing under these conditions can have you producing crap in no time. But creative writing teachers and professional authors actually encourage this sort of meandering associative spillage. They say it’s okay to write with abandon as long as you clean it up later. All writing is rewriting, they say.

When I play squash I love to go after cutesy drop shots and boasts. Part of it is that it’s fun to feel as though I’m finessing the ball, and part of it is that these shots are devastating when they succeed.

But they rarely do. That’s why my coach urged me to hit deep solid drives instead. Those I could more reliably control; they were easier to practice; and when they failed, I wouldn’t be left totally exposed.

Writing can work the same way. I like to compose long, breathy sentences, sentences packed with commas and clauses in an effusion of iambic feet, the sort of sentences that build, in a meandering prosodic way, a feeling in the reader of tension—eased by an interruption—that predictably unwind, rhythmically beat by beat, toward a quick but satisfying end.

It’s hard to stop writing like that once you start. You sort of have to snap yourself out of it: keep things short and punchy. That’s what I’m doing right now. These sentences are my writerly attempt to hit solid deep balls to the corner. Are they working?