Writing and Writhing and Righting

I had an epiphany this week, and definitely a secular one in which neither Jesus nor the Magi played any role. Or at least as far as I know.

As I’ve said over and over again here in these blog postings, I continue to write this bio of Johnson, continue to do research, continue to interview scholars to glean detailed knowledge, and also continue to mull over (or, more accurately, re-mull) just exactly how to put the whole thing together. I had already worked out a structure, but it suddenly came to me how I should make a couple of major changes in the whole of the book that would make it a better thing in the end (I’m not going to reveal those here!). My own experience with writing is often like this. I get a substantial portion done, but then I go through a period where I seem to be languishing, can’t sit down to write because something is gnawing at me telling me that there’s something wrong — and then, well, you know.

It’s a good thing. It certainly doesn’t mean that I have to start over (Jesus and the Magi forbid!), but that some rearrangements have to be made and some rewriting needs to be done.1

I’ve done some reading in the past couple of weeks as well. A little bit was in W. Jackson Bate’s seminal biography of Johnson published in 1975. The other half dozen or so biographies of Johnson that I have at hand are all on my Kindle, but for this one I have to rely on the print copy I bought (gulp) 34 years ago. The other thing which I didn’t really read in-depth, but which I glanced through the pages of as I scanned it

and ultimately posted it online, was the MA thesis I did on Johnson’s Rambler back in 1982 (re-gulp). I of course remembered the two main things I studied in that thesis — the watermarks and countermarks of the first edition issues, which I was able to get luxurious access to at the University of Toronto; and the rhetoric and organization of the essays — but I’d forgotten about other things I’d included, such as a detailed categorization of the Rambler essays, as well as an analysis of the textual differences among the original folio issues, the edition published in 1752, the revised edition published in 1756, and the Yale edition. BTW if you are interested in reading the thesis in all its glory, you can now find it here.

On a smaller scale, as regards the people and the intensity, my unsettled mind as I wanted to write but couldn’t, and then felt bad that I wasn’t writing — it reminds me of the hell that Johnson put himself through as he looked back on a productive year and instead of recalling the accomplishments, focused on all the time he had “wasted.” Ah, Sam — you produced some great work, and I just wish that you had been able to realize that a bit more and been kinder to yourself.

  1. The vagueness and generality here have the tone of how organized crime members communicate their intentions: “I know some people who know some people.”
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