The other difference is that in my work the writing felt secondary. The real business was to get things done. Words were ancillary to that. The main thing was what you achieved. Now, what I achieve are words. Words, hundreds of them, are primary. I don’t have to think beyond them, the effects they produce. I just have to produce the words.
This is a big change in my life. I was constantly doing things, calling people, giving instructions, driving to meetings, receiving faxes, sending cable, attending conferences. I was often on my feet, greeting people, shaking hands, aiming a pointer at a chart. Now all I seem to do is to sit at a computer and use my fingers. These days few use a heavy-weight tome, like a dictionary, thesaurus or encyclopedia; those are all electronically accessible in a second. I am slowly, very slowly, getting accustomed to sitting at a desk for hours.
I barely write a paragraph before I long for a sip of coffee. Another two, and I long to take a look at the headlines. Two pages down, I have a seductive itch for the breaking news on television. An hour or so later, the urge for a lunch break seems irresistible. I have come to see these as short escapes from the onerous yoke to which I have condemned myself.
That is not the only temptation of a starting writer. Sometimes I am eager to tell a story and the words tumble out quickly. At other times, the emerging words leave me with a gnawing sense of discomfort. Surely I could have said that better! Isn’t there a simpler, clearer way to express that idea? Then I have no option but to turn to some lexical help and muddy the stream of my thought. I am torn between keeping on writing, no matter what, and stepping back and tweaking what I have written.
In this respect, I trail D. H. Lawrence who chose to follow what he called his daimon, his guiding spirit, untrammeled by his reason. Beyond minor corrections, he refused to edit his manuscript. If he disliked the result of his effort, he simply started all over again, giving another chance to his daimon to recreate a better opus. Only rarely do I transpose paragraphs or make a significant change to what I have written. Let the substance get the approbation of the readers or their condemnation on its merit.
On the other hand, I am seldom fully content with what has emerged. I can never go back to what I have written a month or even a week back without pruning an adverb or tightening a phrase. I am certainly perfectible. I want to write better tomorrow than I write today.
The first thing I am trying to achieve is precision. I want to say just what I intend to say, no more, no less. I haven’t found such exactness easy to accomplish, but it is still my goal. I feel I haven’t done anything worthwhile if I have not said precisely what I meant to express. At the same time, I want to say it clearly. Nothing in written work exasperates me more than the need to extract the sense of a passage that remains defiantly obscure. I want to make it easy, as supremely easy as possible, for my reader to get what I am driving at. A third concern that I am aware of is elegance. Surely, I want to write some limpid prose that is easy on the eyes and the tongue. I want one to read me comfortably and enjoy it. I am not sure that I am able to meet all the three standards at the same time. In fact, I am quite sure I fail quite often. But I try and the guidelines remain in place.
It is a remarkable pleasure when somebody reads something I have written and likes it. Perhaps he or she takes the trouble to tell me. It is joyful news. Nothing, however, compares with pleasure of completing something I have started writing. It is a miracle that, where there was nothing, not even a ghost of an idea, a piece of writing has sprung from within me. It is a miracle that never stops stupefying me. It keeps me writing.