Even when it’s only a draft

February 1999

Even when it’s only a draft the pleasure of finishing a piece of writing should not be underestimated. I wonder the extent to which other types of artists experience this feeling. The intricacy of a piece of writing seems to contribute to the pleasure—as if one had put a puzzle together—but in this sense film, dance and opera, with their multiple participants and muses, are more complex. I also appreciate that a writer’s end product is tangible—a piece of paper, often many pieces—but of course here painters and sculptors have more to show.

In any case, it’s a very nice feeling—addicting—though, as with many addictive activities and substances, the high does not last long. One turns to the next piece. Soon there is the desperation to escape the confusion, inarticulateness and incompletion. There is the thrill of making new combinations of words and images—one’s very own ideas! (It’s a bit like the pleasure of defecation.) And, of course, there are fantasies of worldly success.


  1. I find pleasure in moments of writing, but not in writing generally. Generally, I find it a form of suffering, I guess. Finishing sometimes brings the comparative pleasure of release from suffering, but more often it just brings either anxiety (how bad is this, really?) or humiliating self-knowledge (oh, it is this bad).

    • Interesting, Kelly. I should hate to admit it, but I think I find such narcissistic pleasure in the activity (the workings of a brain attached to my body), . . . Not that this does away with the anxiety. Long ago I lived with visual artists, and aping them I started making art, in particular comic conceptual “straw art” (puns and things made of straws). They urged me (continuing the joke?) to make slides and try to get a gallery show, but I said, “I can’t ask a gallery to take this work seriously!” (Even as comedy.) I wasn’t a writer. Which is to say I often offer equally comical (intentionally or not) bits of prose, and do indeed expect them to be taken seriously.

      On another subject, did you ever (by chance) read Baudelaire’s Mon coeur mis à nu et Fusées; journaux intimes (My Heart Laid Bare and Fusées; Intimate Journals, 1909; later translated by Christopher Isherwood)? “Intimate Journals” is a misnomer; Scathing Remarks might have been more to the point. In any case, if you have not read the book, I recommend it. Brief, invigorating, at times spot on, at times quite off.

    • Hi Kelly. I should have more wit this morning to respond to you appropriately. But I was up late with a cold and Les Trois Mousquetaires, so the best I can do is to say that we — and Pablo Picasso, for example — are in an anal-expulsive business. (Albeit one that paid Picasso — and Derrida! — better for their products than it is paying us.)

      More seriously, are you saying writing does not give you pleasure, or that the finishing is unpleasureful?

      Best, Wm.

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