Thursday, December 1, 2011

That'll do, little line of prose. That'll do.

Instead of adhering to a standard of excellence, it seems the prevailing mindset of today—in business, in manufacturing, in education, in politics, in…whatever—is to cling to the adage of “That’ll do.”  Is that the best product we can put out on the market?  No, but that’ll do.  Is that my best work, my best effort, that I am handing in to my teacher?  No, but that’ll do.
I’m finding that it is this very syndrome I must fight against each time I sit down to write. 

I have enough compositional prowess to come up with a passable line of prose.  In keeping with the concrete detail that Flannery O’Connor so often preaches, I can create a line that conveys enough of the concrete to be convincing.  A line that has an appearance of articulation and, when compared to some other writing on the market, is decent.  And so I hear a lulling voice say, “That’ll do.  Let’s move on.”  And the drive to move on is overwhelmingly fierce.  I have a page-count to achieve.  I have children to wrangle.  I have dinner to cook.  I have a vacuum I haven’t used in half a decade.  I have papers to grade.  So, that’ll do, little line of prose.  That’ll do.
However, along with the preaching of concrete detail, O’Connor adds, “Art is selective.  What is there is essential and creates movement.”  Looking at my little line of prose, while it presents a façade of articulation, when measured against O’Connor’s standard, it often lacks movement.  Still worse, it at times drops stone-dead.  It does not capture what the story, the character, the muse requires it to capture.  So if I am sending my words out into the world—whether it’s a blog or short story or novel—I must not send them out weak, exposed, vulnerable.  They should be armored by revision and precision.  They should be the best that I can compose.  Not in comparison with other authors roving the literary provinces, but in comparison with my own capabilities.  Is this description essential?  No, that won’t do.  Does this character, this line, this word have movement?  No, that won’t do.  Is this the best I am capable of?  No, that won’t do. 
I must go back.  I must revise.  I must hone.  I must work for life, breath, movement.  I must spend the time, expend the energy.  Because the story begins with me.  Its existence is contingent upon my willingness to muscle on despite setbacks, frustrations, and time constraints.  And if, God forbid, my story dies—if it is rejected, shelved, abandoned unread in a rusted paper tray by an editor in a musty cubicle—it will have died valiantly and not unloved, nor unmourned.  And it will not have died by my hand.  For I, with Whitman’s barbaric yawp and Dickinson’s hope with feathers, will no longer be lulled by the siren song of “That’ll do.” 

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