Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dressing to Write: Does it Matter?

The 18th Century English writer Lord Chesterfield said, "Dress is a very foolish thing, and yet it is a very foolish thing not to be well dressed." I wonder what Lord Chesterfield was wearing when he fashioned those words?

While we're on the subject, how are writers at Saturday Night Live dressed as they work right up to their weekly deadline? What style does Christopher Hitchens sport as he crafts his political essays and scathing critiques? Tina Fey, are you anything like your writing alter-ego, Liz Lemon, who naps in a "Slanket" at her messy, crumb-strewn desk while writing award-winning scripts? A writer wants to know.

A quick Google search for well-dressed writers generated leads like, "The Well-Dressed Monkey" and "The Well-Dressed Salad." Not quite what I had hoped to find but then I came across a CBS Sunday Morning segment that made me begin to question the wisdom of wearing mis-shappen sweaters and oh-so-comfortable pants for anything other than avoiding company. The segment featured lyricist, songwriter and singer Johnny Mercer - a man who penned over 1,500 songs in his lifetime including timeless classics like Summer Wind, Fools Rush In, Hooray for Hollywood and You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby.

I was stunned to realize that so many American classics could be traced back to one author. I was also impressed to see that this incredibly prolific, successful writer seemed to have spent his highly-productive work days elegantly-attired, wether he was working alone or collaborating with others. It would have been so easy for him to ignore his appearance in order to devote every waking moment to his craft. The question is, could Johnny Mercer have written the chipper Jeepers Creepers in slovenly sweatpants? Could he have brought forth the beauty of Fools Rush In with uncombed hair and unbrushed teeth? We'll never know for sure but his photos reveal a man whose appearance was as sharp and well-considered as his command of language. I wonder if his choice of wardrobe influenced his style of writing or contributed to his enormous success? I'll ponder that sartorial question, at least for a little while, the next time I dress to write.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Blank Page: Friend or Foe?

The blank page is supposedly a writer's worst enemy but is that true for every writer?

The untouched page is full of unseen promise. It allows a writer to believe that in just a short while a complete story, clever blog or touching song can be written. Before pen touches paper ideas can seem fully-formed and sometimes even brilliant. How quickly that confidence dissipates in the face of a messy page crowded with notes.

Sometimes writing feels easy and the words just seem to flow. A writer might emerge from a creative session feeling invigorated, convinced that something inspired has been written on the first attempt. Then that very un-blank page is read and the realization sets in: the hard work has only just begun. It turns out the ideas aren't fully-formed afterall - in places they even defy logic - and most of them end in prepositions. You make more coffee. You cancel plans. A short writing session turns into one of many long days.

The blank page is a flattering mirror but the marked page is a clear window. The mirror tells you exactly what you want to hear - your ideas are original, your prose is graceful. The window poses a challenge - will your ideas fly free through it or shatter against the force of your limitations on the way out?

What is more intimidating? A blank page that lets you imagine your greatest possibilities or one that requires you to rescue your genuinely good ideas from beneath piles of unpolished verbiage? The answer seems obvious to me so off I go to buy a fresh ream of beautifully blank, ego-boosting, eco-friendly paper.