Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"A Comfort--and a Disillusionment"

Today we bring you another selection from Margaret Mitchell's letters, a selection that should be an inspiration to slow, self-critical and meticulous writers everywhere. Of course, we here at How We Do Run On plead total ignorance to the phenomenon of which MM speaks, being only the swiftest of swift writers in all matters. (Inside joke. Unless you're familiar with our other Gone with the Wind projects, or willing to dig deep enough through the links on the sidebar to find them. Then it's just the sad truth.)

All jokes aside, the excerpted paragraphs below come from Margaret Mitchell's letter of September 29, 1936 to Stark Young, a drama critic at The New Republic and the author of the Civil War epic So Red The Rose, published two years earlier in 1934. Mitchell was an admirer of her fellow Southern writer and his novel, and her esteem for Young's writing, along with her trademark self-deprecation, is on display in her charming letter. 
"My dear Mr. Young:

"Your letter was both a comfort—and a disillusionment. I am referring to the part of the letter where you disclaimed the 'ease in writing' which I attributed to you. You see, I had believed that established writers, writers who really knew how to write, had no difficulty at all in writing. I had thought that only luckless beginners like myself had to rewrite endlessly, tear up and throw away whole chapters, start afresh, rewrite and throw away again.

"I knew nothing about other writers and their working habits and I thought I was the only writer in the world who went through such goings-on. After I had rewritten a chapter ten or twelve times and had what I thought was a workable 'first draft,' I'd put it away for a month. When I dug it out again I'd beat on my breast and snatch out my hair, because it was so lousy. Then the chapter would be thrown away, because the content of it had not been reduced to the complete simplicity I wanted. Simplicity of ideas, of construction, of words. Then there would be another awful month of substituting Anglo-Saxon derivatives for Latin ones, simple sentence constructions for the more cumbersome Latin constructions.

"Then before I went to press I snatched out double hands full of copy, whole chapters. Snatched them out under such pressure that I didn't have time to tie up the severed arteries. In my eyes the book will bleed endlessly and reproachfully.

"But I had thought that people who knew how to write just breezed along. Now your letter arrives and disillusions me. Doesn't ease ever come?—However, there is comfort in the knowledge that the author of so many grand books as you didn't just sit down and bang them out. I know that's an Unchristian kind of comfort—the misery loves company kind of comfort—and I should feel guilty about feeling that way but I cannot prod my emotions into a sense of guilt."
--excerpted from Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind Letters edited by R. Harwell. 
This post is part of our series A Week in August: The Margaret Mitchell Tribute. Be sure to check out the other posts (yesterday's can be found here) and leave your comments either here or on the Margaret Mitchell thread.

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