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Amber Paulen


This past week I’ve been working on an article about Rome and writers, an extremely broad topic, and I’m still not sure if I have chiseled out of it what I want to say. This problem might have been alleviated in the beginning if I would have gotten out a pencil and drew an outline. I usually outline a piece, large or small, fiction or non, in a very loose way: by placing a blank paper and pencil besides me and sketching out ideas as they come. Sometimes I get something solid, but most of the time it’s only flights of fancy, probabilities more than actualities, doodles more than concrete thoughts. Anyway, the main objective of this exercise is to get my brain-juices flowing along the current I want to take.

But really, I can’t blame the lack of an “outline” for my fumbling with this piece. The only thing I can blame, I think, was a certain amount of feeling around I had to do within the writing that often times led nowhere. It was an odd experience, like being let loose with building blocks but having no concept of basic architectural structures, so I began with the roof first then decided I needed a floor. There were certain ideas I wanted to keep that didn’t outright fit with the basics. But that’s part of what I love about writing, the challenge that feels like a straight-jacket and the creative element that feels like a feathered seed on wind. I can’t help myself really, so I storm on, determined to make everything I want in the piece, work together with everything it needs.

For example, there’s this quote by Zadie Smith. When asked if the reading public could expect a novel such as Room with a View from her time in Rome, she answered:

I guess that’s not the aspect of Italy that interests me. The piazzas and the romance. That’s not Italy – that’s an Englishman’s vision of Italy. I sort of see it more as a speculative fiction place – like, what would happen to England if media regulation disappeared, the BBC went, Murdoch had the terrestrial channels and the fourth estate collapsed? People wrongly believe Italy to be a backward country. Actually Italy is a vision of what’s coming.

That last line means a great deal to me as a writer trying to figure out how Rome can actually fit into my work. It’s a wonderful perspective that most people can hardly conceive, so stuck on the romanticism that Italy inflames in the mind of foreigners. And that is just one of the thoughts I wanted to get across with the piece. I would submit it today if it wasn’t for my superstition against submissions on Friday, but what’s another week to wait on the question of whether I’ve written a mess or something concrete.


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