The Abyss and The Gulp
A zine about the chasms between researching and writing and writing and publishing.
Note: My son Jules contributed the drawings to today’s zine. If you scroll to the end, there’s a PDF you can print out and fold into a booklet.
Casey Cep brings this up in Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee:
Nothing writes itself. Left to its own devices, the world will never transform into words, and no matter how many pages of notes and interviews and documents a reporting trip generates, the one that matters most always starts out blank. In The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm called this space between reporting and writing an “abyss.” It is an awful place, and an awfully easy place to get stuck. Everyone told Harper Lee that the story she had found was destined to be a best seller. But no one could tell her how to write it.
Here’s the full quote from The Journalist and the Murderer:
An abyss lies between the journalist’s experience of being out in the world talking to people and his experience of being alone in a room writing. When the interviews are over and the journalist first faces the labor of writing, he feels no less resentful than the subject will feel when he reads the finished text.
Malcolm is speaking specifically of reporting, but this abyss is also present for all kinds of creative work. On any book I’ve worked on, for example, it’s always been easier to just keep researching the book instead of actually writing the book. Research becomes a method of procrastinating.
And on the other side of actually getting the writing done, there is another abyss:
Lethem describes this time in The Ecstasy of Influence: