Saturday, June 9, 2018

Obiter Dicta, no. 49

An eighteenth-century inkstand — complete with quill holder, penknife, inkwell, pounce box (to hold the desiccant powder), and wafer box (to hold the paste sealing wafers) — was a monument to the physical act of writing. But if no inkstand was at hand, one could make do with temporary expedients. One day, when Sir Walter Scott was out hunting, a sentence he had been trying to compose all morning suddenly leapt into his head. Before it could fade, he shot a crow, plucked a feather, sharpened the tip, dipped it in crow's blood, and captured the sentence.

— Anne Fadiman, "Eternal Ink," Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

Let me proudly state that no animals have ever been harmed during the production of my own writing. And furthermore, if I must appear a madman for the sake of my art, I would rather build a mnemonic cage around the elusive sentence in question by repeating it out loud over and over again. More humane and more effective, if you ask me, and even if you don't. Scott would no doubt find my attitude regrettably soft and unmanly. But I like to think he'd be impressed, and perhaps a bit unnerved, by the way I can summon a notepad app from thin air, like a wizard's familiar, to capture ideas when I'm away from my writing desk.