Useful and Beautiful

I think the pre-Raphaelites are my off-season thing. Here we are, two weeks into January, and I’ve already put several books on hold at the library. I mean—I’ve been thinking about creative relationships, which got me reading again about Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal…and Janey Morris…and Fanny Conforth…

“Proserpine,” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1874).
Janey Morris modelling. This is hands-down one of my favourite paintings.

Complicated relationships, complicated art. Those are ponderings for another time, though.

But in the course of my wanderings, I stumbled across this quotation by William Morris:

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

Which I quite like. I think it’s a little more forgiving than Marie Kondo’s axiom that all our possessions should spark joy. Many of mine do; concentrating on joy helped me purge many more.

But in the end, I also need a screwdriver in the house, and a screwdriver is very useful. (Which is a kind of joy, I suppose? In the end, I think both writers are saying the same thing; Morris just resonates with me better.)

Now, Morris’ quotation is timely for two reasons. Reason the First: the garret is looking a little cluttered. When I moved up here, I purged a TON of stuff. A full garbage bag came out of my desk drawers alone. There really isn’t that much space up here, you see, and there’s nothing like moving to help you decide what’s necessary in your life.

But stuff creeps back in over time. Christmases and birthdays can’t quite match pace with the rate of purge. Also, I got a cat, which is basically like having a furry toddler—he comes with a lot of paraphernalia as well. The toys, my friends. The toys are everywhere.

He’s pretty cute, though.

So decluttering. Focusing on those things useful and beautiful. Cool.

But it’s not just the garret. Here is Reason Number Two. It occurs to me that “have nothing that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” is a pretty good compass for life and fiction in general.

I’ve been asking myself this as I move through the Beer Magic novel. “Why is this here? What is this scene doing? Where is the conflict? What did these paragraphs accomplish in the overall story?” Already, I know I’m going to have to purge a lot of words. My best guess is that Beer Magic’s first draft is going to run about 110k—I’d like the final draft to hit 100k.

Reading what I’ve got thus far, my prose is cluttered. Extra scenes are gumming things up; some words are neither useful, nor particularly beautiful.

That’s fine for now. It’s a first draft. But I’d like to keep that in mind for the rest of the process: useful and beautiful. Ideally, every particle of our fiction should be both. Each word should punch above its weight; the best prose does three (or four) things at once; you’ve heard this all before.

But if it’s not useful or beautiful—

Why is it here?

“Der Arme Poet (The Poor Poet),” by Carl Spitzweg (1839).
Actual scene from my garret.

Things to ponder, as I charge forward with the draft and sort out my apartment.

Anon,

KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

I suspect I will not have time for much short fiction until after Beer Magic and the “Six Stories” stage adaptation are done. But the first movement in Gustav Holst’s “Seven Part-Songs” is making me itchy.

Full transparency: on hearing it for the first time, I may have uttered an expletive. The text is just so evocative and entirely my aesthetic.

The other songs are lovely too—it’s always nice to find pieces arranged specifically for women’s voices. I particularly liked the round arrangement of the fourth song (6:10, “When First We Met”).

Posted on January 15, 2018, in Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Your blogs always brighten my day!

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