Writing Faces - the long, but mainly short of it.
I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at a house concert this past fall featuring the great singer songwriter Ron Hynes. In fact it would have been one of Ron’s final shows. Conversing with his audience between songs, he talked about how he gets asked where he finds the inspiration for his songs. His response was among the most honest I have ever heard from a songwriter or for that matter any writer. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that there is no inspiration, just hard work. He talked about getting up in the morning and putting in the time, every day. Sitting with his guitar and working for hours – trying line after line, changing them, trying again, further tweaks, and then eventually, hours later, sometimes days or even months later, there’s a finished product.
Ernest Hemmingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” He also said....
I’m embarrassed to call myself a writer in the same essay in which these guys are mentioned, but while of comparatively marginal talent, it is much of what I do, and I can certainly attest that it is, for me as well, as the saying goes, 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.
But in some weird sense I do enjoy writing. I think it is the challenge of it, and the satisfaction of producing something, whether it’s a speech, a magazine article or op-ed, or for that matter these blogs. It’s work but also enjoyable.
Last winter, I had the good fortune to participate in a rather unique writing project. I was asked to be part of the small team of writers composing profiles to complement the photography in what would become Keith Minchin’s Faces of New Brunswick coffee table book.
The fun of doing this was in the challenge. No profile could exceed 130 words. I remember when I was drafting the first one I contacted editorial director Lane MacIntosh to ask how much leeway I could have on the word restriction. He said I could go to 132 words if I had to. I waited for his laugh and reassurance he was just kidding. He wasn’t. Bastard.
Henry David Thoreau once wrote this note to accompany a story he sent to a friend “Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.”
And that, keeping the writing short, became the discipline and the challenge. Our approach was not to write biographies, but to avoid them. Rather our objective was to search out that gem of information, that unique life turning point, or inspiration, or motivation, or tragedy, or turn of fate, or whatever it was that more than anything else, make these people tick; the passion that makes them who they are.
And then, capture that in 130 words, so a reader will learn something interesting about the person that they may not have known, and that they would probably not find anywhere else.
I thoroughly enjoyed the process. I also liked the fact that the people Keith choose for the book were a true cross-section of New Brunswick, and included the famous as well as the little known from all walks of life, but all with a story worth telling and all of whom in their way contribute to making New Brunswick what it is.
There was also the great satisfaction of being part of something bigger. Working as part of a team of very talented people including editorial director and writer Lane MacIntosh, fellow writer Sharon Pond, a dynamite editor in Armand Paul, which was a treat because I hadn’t worked with him since my days at CBC many years ago, one of the most creative graphic designers I have ever worked with in Pierre Allain, who made every page pop, and of course as the anchor Keith’s wonderful photography.
The end result is something I am extremely proud to have been a part of.
It truly is a celebration of New Brunswick and is in itself a work of art. So if you are like me, and find yourself every year at about this time stressing over that perfect present, this may be what you have been looking for - if the gift is for someone with a connection to the province. It’s a thought. If you are interested, here’s how to get it.
I’m not sure if this will be my last blog before Christmas, but it might be, so just in case, I’d like to take the opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas, or a Happy Hanukkah as the case may be, and to thank you for taking the time to read my blogs.
As always thanks for reading. You can "like" this blog above, and if the spirit moves you to share this, please do. Retweets always appreciated.