When his wife threw a birthday party for this guy who invests our money for us, she suggested that we honor the occasion with a story, a joke, or maybe a limerick. I had never written a limerick before, but when the seed was planted – miracle of miracles – a limerick unexpectedly emerged. It went like this:
A man of great prudence and purity
He takes care of our money with surety
As our net worth advances
He reduces our chances
Of depending on Social Security.
Let me go back and clarify. The above limerick did not unexpectedly emerge. An idea for a limerick unexpectedly emerged. Crafting the limerick itself took considerably longer. There were numerous false starts, discarded lines, and a near endless effort to improve on the wording. All in all, the limerick took nearly three days to complete.
This is not a record for me. I’ve been working on the lyrics to a country “hurtin’ song” with a soaringly redemptive resolution for twenty years, and, after all that time, I have only completed the first verse:
“I never knew a time when I was happy
I never knew a time when life was good
I never knew a day, when I’d get up and say,
‘I think I’ll find my way’
As if I could…”
(And then he met someone, and things got better.)
What I’m saying to you here is,
I've been known to take a while to write things.
I don’t mean to. That’s just the way it is. I am really slow. (Which is no small liability when you’re writing for television.)
My writing pace came to mind when I recently received the gift of a poem, written by a guy I know, named Michael. It was a cowboy poem, and since he knew my predilection for all things cowboy, he thought I’d appreciate his poem.
But – that’s not a qualifying “but”, like I’m taking something back, it’s a “but” of impending comparison – the poem had seventeen verses.
Seventeen verses. Structured in the traditional limerick A-A-B-B-A format. The on ly thing I could think of was, “Holy cow! It took me three days to write one!”
Michael’s index led me to other poems he had written. One of them, a hilarious yarn called, “The Sewin’ Cowboy” ran thirteen verses. Another – an epic by any standard – contained sixty-one.
Sixty-one verses! Do you have any idea how long that would take me, allowing that I had a sustaining theme, the requisite confidence, and the necessary degree of endurance? Neither do I. But my guess is, I am unlikely to be allotted sufficient time on this earth to see it through.
Of course, you don’t measure poetry by the yard. You judge it by its content – the word selection, the prevailing rhythm, the story or moment in time it chooses to capsulize, the word selection, and, overall, how it ultimately makes you feel.
Michael’s poems left me engrossed and happy. And grateful to know someone who could pull a feat of that magnitude off.
Putting quality aside – and having not queried Michael as to how long his poems take him to complete – I am offering a contrast of two different kinds of writers. Writers whose material spills out of them and they “nail it” on the first try, and writers – like me – who have to go in and get it, and then reconfigure, and edit, and alter the words, again and again and again, till we’re exhausted, or we can’t think of anything else to change.
Because of the mouth-dropping volume of his output – sixty-one verses, geez! – I am exemplifying Michael – possibly incorrectly – as a writer whose work gushes out of him, and he can barely write fast enough to get it all down.
I am also not suggesting that “slow and deliberate” produces better results than “fast and explosive.” There are arguments on both sides, and evidence to back each position up.
I have seen writers who agonized over their efforts, and they stunk. And I’ve seen fast and amazing. I have also seen slow and brilliant, and fast and ca-ca.
Which, I suppose is my point.
The process is the process, and each writer differs in that regard, the spectrum of speed ranging from, “He wrote fifty-two books, all wonderful” to “He wrote a great line ten years ago, but it took him fifteen years to write.”
Writers, old and aspiring, harken as I say unto ye:
The results are all that matters.
The duration of the journey is irrelevant.
(Though it’d be nice to finish those country song lyrics before I die.)