Friday, December 19, 2008

a pile of babies in the post, and cohen reborn once more

i picked up my pile of manuscripts this week for the atlantic writing competition put on by the ns writers' fed. it's a precious thing, to slide someone's paper baby out of the anonymous brown envelop. writing novels is an insane thing to do: it takes hours and hours of work and worry, years of practice and, for the most part, the end result just sits in a drawer or hides on a hard drive.

i've always been keen to show other people my work - otherwise, why would i write? if i just want to tell myself stories, i'll just close my eyes watch the mind movie. anyway, i know a lot of these entrants have never shown these novels to any one else, which makes it quite exciting for me. writing is like striping naked and standing in the middle of the willow tree intersection: 'hello, world! this is what i really really look like! what do you think? do you like it? would you like me to change it? because i can if you want me to.' (even though you know you can't change it because it's the essential elements of who you are).

reading other people's raw materials is more like getting nudie pictures in the mail.

judging is a pleasingly ironic turnaround for me: last year (like many years) i entered the contest and didn't get out of the first round.

on another note, the luminous leonard cohen has risen up once more. the winner of the 'x factor' in the uk won with a powerful, belting version of hallelujah. it's top of the digital pops there and that prompted disgruntled jeff buckley fans to download his version, driving it into the top 10. leonard's version is at 33 and rising, meaning the old man could have one song secure 3 spots in the top ten list.

that's the thing about leonard's masterpiece: sung huge or tiny, in celebration or defeat, it's like a buddhist lama incarnating over and over again.

here's what he once said about the song that sounds like it was written by Anonymous:
"The only advice I have for young songwriters is that if you stick with a song long enough, it will yield. But long enough is not any fixed duration, its not a week or two, its not a month or two, it's not necessarily even a year or two. If a song is to yield you might have to stay with it for years and years. 'Hallelujah' was at least five years. I have about 80 verses. I just took verses out of the many that established some sort of coherence. The trouble that I find is that I have to finish the verse before I can discard it. So that lengthens the process considerably.

"I filled two notebooks with the song, and I remember being on the floor of the Royalton Hotel, on the carpet in my underwear, banging my head on the floor and saying, "I can't finish this song."

and that's just it: he couldn't finish the song. every time somebody hears about that secret chord, they finish it once more.


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