CLEAN MANUSCRIPTS


I have been reading this massive 1000 page biography of John Steinbeck (written by Jackson J. Benson, who is a hell of writer in his own right). Steinbeck is my favourite writer. It seems very presumptuous to say, but perhaps you have felt this way as well: there is a comfort in reading an artist’s biography, reading their letters, hearing them speak not as an artist but as a person (not that there can ever really be a separation), and feeling that the two of you might get along. One passage in particular stood out to me. A letter Steinbeck wrote to a friend.

“I want to speak particularly of your theory of clean manuscripts, and spelling as correct as a collegiate stenographer, and every nasty little comma in its place and preening of itself. ‘Manners,’ you say it is, and knowing the ‘trade’ and the ‘Printed Word.’ But I have no interest in the printed word. I would continue to write if there were no writing and no print. I put my words down for a matter of memory. They are more made to be spoken than to be read. I have the instincts of a minstrel rather than those of a scrivener.”

I often think about the relationship between filmmaking and technology this way. Rules seem very clumsy as far as defining the boundaries of art, and yet without them we find it very difficult to make sense out of anything. And so to what degree do you placate, and to what degree do you colour outside the lines and all over the page? This often seems like the only question worth thinking about. “There is no correct answer,” say the successful to the uninitiated. What can you do. Make a mark where you feel like it and hope someone else says “I would have put it there too.”

Thanks, John, for seeing.

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

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