“Beret Man”

When I begin to write a book, writing my daily word count with my fountain pen in my hand, following one sentence with the next, struggling to find the tone and feel and thread of a book, trying to discover what might be discovered at the end of the line of words, I am Beret Man.

 

In those early days of writing a new book, the heady days, the days when I feel as though I am an actual artist, going to work wearing such a stylish chapeau is in order.

 

The first trick is to keep the artist working.

 

When I have my beret on, I do not look back at the work as I write. If I criticize and edit and point out the flaws too soon, I can dampen my spirit and discourage myself before I have a chance to discover what it turns out I am trying to make.

 

I already know better than anyone that much of what Beret Man writes at this stage will reveal itself to be not good enough to be read by anyone. But many of the holes the new book has can be fixed later. Right now nothing can be allowed to get in the way of this new thing.

 

I do not bother Beret Man with the hard work of craftsmanship required to turn a pile of scribbling into a book that someone might want to read. The time for rewriting will come soon enough but not until the man in the beret has finished.

 

“Writing anything,” as Gordon Lightfoot once observed about the art he made brilliantly for so many years, “is a fragile magic at best.” He and Mr. Updike may or may not have known each other, but they were clearly on the same page.

 

Criticize the man in the beret too often or too soon or too harshly in the beginning, and he will put down his pen, afraid and discouraged and hesitant. It is right to leave him alone a bit, let him believe the work is golden.

 

Soon enough the truth will be apparent.

 

– Robert Benson, from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen”