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The Friday Fillip: Takes and Drafts

Un certain Marchant, avocat, homme d’esprit, disait : «On court les risques du dégoût en voyant comment l’administration, la justice et la cuisine se préparent.»

A certain witty advocate, Marchant, observed: “One risks disgust in seeing administration, justice and one’s dinner being made.”

Nicolas de Chamfort (1741–1794)

Perhaps. But I’ve been involved in the making of a small amount of justice and a much larger amount of dinner, and I’ve rather enjoyed the process in both cases. (“Administration” might be another matter, I freely admit.)

I like to see the creative act in the act, so to speak. Or, to put it another way, I enjoy work: I could watch it for hours. If you’re the same, I’ve got a few treats for you today involving works in progress.

The first two involve music. On the OUP Blog Gordon Thompson, a Skidmore music prof, offers us a glimpse into the making of “From Me to You” by the Beatles. This brief — just a bit more than 2 minutes long — piece of pop required thirteen takes, George Martin, and some studio work to get to the state the public heard. Thirteen takes is a lot of repetition, but near repetition, which of course is the point. Give a listen for the changes: Takes 1 & 2345, 6 & 7, 8 & 9 – 13

And this is the way it was released:

Still with music, here’s a more revealing studio recording of the making of a pop hit. This is an eight-minute track of part of Brian Wilson’s work with the 20 studio musicians on the Beach Boy’s “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?”. As the post about it on Mental Floss says, “It took 21 takes to get the backing track right, then a week to record the vocals.” This is the taking of pains by a kid who knows what he wants — and is right.

Dickens's Great Expectations

Dickens’s Great Expectations

The hard work here is doing it over. And over. And, yes, over again. It works with writing too. I used to require outlines and rough drafts from my students when an essay was assigned, and every year someone was bound to say, “Oh but I don’t do rough drafts.” Which provoked the talk about how, in practice, writing is always collaborative, which means re-writing. It’s the rare author indeed who doesn’t do drafts, no matter how much of a genius. And some of the rough early drafts are worked-over nightmares, as you’ll see in the article “Crappy First Drafts of Great Books,” on Psychology Today. My favourite, I suppose, is the first page of the manuscript for Great Expectations, which you see to the left. (Click on it to enlarge it — only somewhat, unfortunately.)

If you’re still disinclined to do drafts, check out Flavorwire’s nifty (i.e. well-drafted) quotes from a score of great writers on the importance of revision. I particularly like the advice you get from more than one great as to what to cut:

  • Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – wholeheartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings. — Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, On the Art of Writing, 1916
  • Read over your compositions and, when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out. – Samuel Johnson

Now, of course, when manuscripts are created digitally, we won’t have marked up manuscripts or even drafts available in years to come — unless, of course, writers save versions, and those versions survive. And, too, when it comes to music in an age of autotune, maybe one take is all the human “input” it takes.

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