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Amber Paulen

The Process

I begin again at page one, read it through and rewrite it sentence by sentence; then I correct each sentence so that it will fit into the page as a whole, then each page so that it has its place in each chapter; later on, each chapter, each page, each sentence is revised in relation to the work as a whole. Painters, Baudelaire says, progress from first sketch to finished work by painting the complete picture at each stage; that is what I try to do. — Simon de Beauvoir, Force of Circumstance

Simon and I have many conversations about what we call The Process. The Process is not static, that much we’ve got figured out; it varies from person to person; it is the act of chiseling a finely tuned expression from the bulk: The Process is creation itself. When we speak of The Process it is with the acknowledgement that here are unlimited discoveries to be made. What I learn from The Process is vital not only to the act of writing but to the act of Life itself.

Though how one creates varies from craft to craft and person to person, there are some universal truths. I believe the first would go: It is never what it seems to be. Which is to say: One knows The Process when one is in it.

There exists the very common illusion that books written and photographs taken were acts of unmitigated and prodigal genius. But for a few cases this is never true; but for a few cases there is much more thrown away than what is kept; but for a few cases The Process to arrive at any singular piece of art is as important, if at times more, than the finished product itself.

Each act of creation invokes the mysteries of birth and death. The omnipotent, instead of its usual cloak of invisibility, is the real fuel which goads one on. I rarely wonder if I will or will not know when I’m finished with this book I’m writing: I know I will know. It is with an absolute conviction that I continue. Conviction of what? Hell if I know. The Process?

I have found the above quote by Simone de Beauvoir extremely helpful lately. I enjoy the simple way of linking sentence to paragraph, paragraph to page, page to chapter, chapter to whole; sentence, paragraph, page, chapter: whole. The elusive whole. When I first began writing I found myself wishing that I could spread my pages out on the floor and by looking at them in one sweeping glance I would be able, finally, to ingest The Whole. But it’s more complicated than that, so much more complicated so that The Whole doesn’t even seem to exist at all but in bits and pieces.

Fresh torment at every blank page, this is what keeps one going. If it was easy it would loose its thrill. That is not to say the more complicated the better it is. Over each obstacle climbed, each word crossed out, each page thrown in the trash, one arrives. The further I go the more I understand, not only what I am trying my damnedest to say but also what others are saying, what all those well composed words were trying to say that have gone before.

Sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, chapter by chapter, repeat, rewrite, re-edit. Each new coming has been coming for ages. Soon I’ll be so legible that I won’t have need to speak. It can’t be a book I’m working on, it’s got to be something else. What that something else is eludes me every chance it gets. Life is in the rich sun of a near-summer morning, by 10 o’clock it’s gone. Once I start making sense all else runs to rot. It’s better this way.

Word by word. Sentence by sentence. Paragraph by paragraph. Page by page. Chapter by chapter. A book is written. Thrown away. Repeat.

It’s life that matters, nothing but life—the process of discovering, the everlasting and perpetual process, not the discovery itself, at all. — Dostoevsky, The Idiot

Post Script: Help! a couple struggling artists out: fine black and white Pocket Print Packs for sale.


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