Of Curious Workmanship
by Edgar G. Snow, Jr.
Leaves from a Writer’s Journal I Just Threw Away
[p.111]In my mind there are four reasons for keeping a writer’s journal: so that (1) you can emulate Henry James and other great writers who captured every truly wonderful story or article idea that came to them, (2) upon reflection, you can see how truly less than extraordinary 99 percent of those ideas are in hindsight, (3) when you become famous and die, all of those embarrassing ideas will be published for the world to see at the instigation of your indiscreet agent or editor just to make a quick buck, and (4) in a pinch, you can pilfer the journal for ideas for an essay like this one before you throw it away.
The following sample entries from the only writer’s diary I ever kept are quoted in order to promote discussion [p.112]about journal-writing practices to avoid. Most of them appear in their original entry format. I have not tried to make any of them better or worse than they originally appeared, although some of them have been edited to limit incoherency in the original.
(1) Idea for story, “Brother Bartley the Ward Clerk.” Assistant ward clerk lives in office and never gets reports in on time. Do in the style of an epistolary or diary piece, except all entries come from “Franklin Planner” (get trademark license). Not sure if this piece will work—not enough distance from reality.
(2) Story idea—“David Letterman’s Conversion.” Elders sneak into CBS studio offices and go door-to-door. Letterman has elders over one night as guests on his show. Letterman attempts mean-spirited humor at their expense, but has a change of heart. Paul Shaffer’s band plays hymns. Lex de Azevedo is guest artist.
(3) I hate Michael Fillerup. If he sneezes, it gets published. Just because everything he writes is brilliant doesn’t mean they need to publish it. Why can’t they give other fiction writers like me a chance? Mediocre writers deserve to be published, too.
(4) Article idea. Suggest Doctrine and Covenants sections 7 and 93 are revelations containing extracts [p.113]from ancient books purporting to have been written by John the Apostle (discuss opposing interpretations that Section 93 was written by John the Baptist). Discuss legends about John not dying. The several versions of the Acts of John report either that John was translated and did not die, or that he was buried while yet alive and the soil above the grave still “breathes” with each breath taken by John, or that John’s grave was found dug up and empty, except for his shoes which inexplicably remained. The legends about the “living John” continued through the middle ages. Query whether they got mixed up with legends of saints walking around carrying their own decapitated heads? A sister in our gospel doctrine Sunday school class reported that her friend, a non-Mormon, said that she had been visited by John the Apostle; follow up on that story.
(5) Idea for article: Joseph Smith as epigrapher of ancient scripts. Use Anthon transcript, Joseph Smith papyri, Kirtland Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, and notes by F. G. Williams. First, become an expert on epigraphy, then write article.
(6) Opening scene in short story about an elders quorum meeting:
“And now for our lesson, by Sandy **********.” Sandy, hiding his surprise that he had forgotten he was to teach that week, grabbed the lesson manual, stood [p.114]up, and asked, “Okay—it’s a quiz. What lesson are we on today? I want to see who has read the lesson.”
Larry ********** raised his hand and said, “Lesson 22, ‘If You Are Prepared, You Shall Not Fear.’’’
“Good. It’s nice to see that somebody reads the lesson around here,” said Sandy, as he flipped to that lesson and read aloud from the introductory paragraph. “Okay. I need someone to read D&C 38:30. And while we’re reading that, think about what it means to be prepared, I mean rea1ly prepared, like the Boy Scout motto. I am reminded of a story I heard once …”
(7) Notes on historical characters for a novel about early Christians (from Eusebius and other early sources):
POLYCARP: Life’s wish—to die as a martyr. Caught during dinner by Roman soldiers. Soldiers allowed him to pray for two hours before hauling him away to his execution. Was this stalling, piety, or both?
CLEMENT (of Alexandria): Hated fops, rhetoricians, men who shaved their beards, and women who wore expensive garments. He derides women with painted faces and mocks owners of crystal chamber pots. Clement joked about “cosmetic surgery”—apparently women in Alexandria frequently had pads sewn into their clothing about the hind quarters. Pet peeve—“Make no noise when swallowing and don’t talk with your mouth full.”
[p.115]ORIGEN: Septimiun Severos persecutes converts to Christianity. Origen’s father, Leonides, imprisoned. As a seventeen-year-old, Origen wanted to be a martyr, but his mother hid his clothes, so he had to stay home. He becomes a teacher and ascetic. He drank no wine, refused payment for services, slept on bare ground, and fasted often. He refused to possess more than one coat or wear shoes. He emasculates himself after reading Matthew 19:12 so as not to be tempted when teaching women.
Around A.D. 235-238, emperor Maximin persecutes Christians. Max is eight feet tall, a Thracian who could break a horse’s leg with his kick and crumble rocks with his hands. Origen, less than enthusiastic about martyrdom now, hides for two years.
Epiphanius claimed Origen wrote over 6,000 books.
Origen says the only way to pray without ceasing is to live as though your life is a prayer.
(8) Why do I have to write? Why am I tempted to answer my own question in a creative way? Doesn’t that mean the answer really won’t answer the question? Is the desire to write a condition, a disease? Maybe it’s like poison ivy: The more I scratch, the better it feels, but the more I have to scratch.