Friday, 1 September 2017

Slow Learner

For ages now, I have been working on a non-fiction project and wondering at my hopelessly slow progress. Today I had an epiphany. I realised that I had absorbed too deeply the "tell all the truth but tell it slant" doctrine of Emily Dickinson.

Hunting around week after week for a quirky approach to telling my story, I have got nowhere. Until at last I have recognised that, while there may be many, many more bright and dazzling ways to frame my narrative, I may be some time - in the Oatesian sense of the phrase - if I keep thrashing around trying to pick the best of them.

In short, it is better to get on with it, to do a piece of work, even if it isn't as striking and astonishing as you wish it could be. Something, ultimately, is better than nothing. Progress is better than none.

A lesson learned, rather a large chunk of a lifetime wasted learning it. If you can't be flashy, be solid. If you can't be amusing, be accurate. If you can't be surprising, at least try to be productive. Potential brilliant originality, if it never comes to fruition, is always trumped by just getting the thing done.


  1. From Toronto: Stumbled across your blog when searching for information on Alice Thomas Ellis. Fascinating entry on Beryl Bainsbridge. And what you write about graveyards in France is very moving. The above post on getting on with it is eloquent. I made a note in my own journal.Many thanks, LM

    1. Hello and thank you for your kind and interesting comments. If you like Alice Thomas Ellis, I wonder if you have read any Penelope Fitzgerald, who I love - Alice Thomas Ellis's husband, Colin Haycraft, published her as well. There is a post about him somewhere here; if you search for his name, you should find it. If you haven't heard of Fitzgerald, you might like Offshore or The Bookshop, at least to start with. But I'm sure you already know that.