Slaughtering Darlings (a.k.a., Writing)
When I watch awards shows on television, I sometimes like to rewind the DVR (used to be the VCR) multiple times in order to focus in on the immediate reactions of the people who didn't win, sitting in their little picture boxes and taking in the unfortunate outcome, and on the winner as they share "real" moments with a cherished few on the way to the stage, where they will stand and speak in the spotlight to everyone. So, in addition to making me a bit of a maniac, this demonstrates my endless and enduring fascination with the nuance and subtleties of throwaway moments. Offstage asides. Honesty, whether intended or incidental.
The same dynamic and curiosity is in play when a historic or notable document is found, or celebrated or offered up for sale. I look at the words that are familiar, like everyone else, but in many ways am even more interested in the cross outs and scribbles, the ideas that didn't make the cut, that were abandoned or thought better of at some point as part of the creative process.
There were a number of stories this week about John Lennon's handwritten lyrics to "A Day in the Life," going up for sale at auction. I thought the news was interesting, but really appreciated the ability to see the precious artifact myself in a pop-up window on a computer screen, thanks to Reuters. The style of the handwriting, what the paper looked like and, notably, the visible edits, the twists and turns that occurred on the road to a song that would eventually take up permanent residency in the minds of millions.
And there it was, right near the top:
He blew his mind out in a car
he didn't notice that the lights had changed
and all the people turned away...
Only that last line was crossed out, the people weren't turning away, in fact, "a crowd of people stood and stared, they'd seen his face before."
That lyric is, of course, the one that made the cut and was ultimately recorded. But I'm still stuck on the little 180-degree flip that went through John Lennon's mind and caused him to reverse course. The people were going to turn away, but instead they stood and stared. Why? What made them change their minds?
Struck me as a great example of writing and the creative process, and how ideas and concepts are built up and knocked down into a "final" that is shared and, if it's good enough and lucky enough, celebrated and remembered.
A day in the life. Of a writer.