Jason Gurley

By day, I'm a user experience designer; by evenings/weekends, I write novels from my home in Scappoose, Ore. My newest is Awake in the World, published February 2019 by Roaring Brook Press; my previous novel, Eleanor, was published by Crown in 2016 and has since been translated into German, Portuguese, and Turkish. I’m currently working on a new project.

Writing as verb and noun

In a recent post, I referred to the episode of Hurry Slowly in which Austin Kleon discussed the benefits of having an analog desk and a digital desk. In the same episode, he talked about watching his five-year-old son as he drew cars, using a photograph as reference. 

He's utterly uninterested in the drawing once he's done copying the photo. It's really the process of copying the picture, looking at it, you know, making the lines form on the page... That's the actual work. And once he's done with the drawing, he actually doesn't care what happens to it. ... I've watched him do one drawing and then just immediately start a new one. What he's doing is he's literally figuring out how the car works by drawing all the different parts. ... That has been super inspiring to me. You know, 'drawing' is a noun and a verb. There's the verb of drawing—doing the drawing—and then there's the thing you're left with after the drawing: the drawing, the piece of paper with ink on it. ... It's really the act of drawing itself that is so valuable. Because it's in the process of drawing things that you really start to understand them.

I immediately related to this as a casual illustrator. I'm not precious about my little sketches when I'm done with them; often I'll throw them away, and people will regard me with horror. (My mother-in-law, I'm told, even salvages these drawings later, when I'm not around.) But this perfectly explains the sense of done-ness I feel when I complete a drawing. I don't need the thing, because I made the thing. The making is what matters, as Kleon so nicely put it above. 

I wonder how this might apply to writing. I forget the details of my stories when I'm finished with them. (I once was invited to attend a book club's discussion of my fan fiction novel Greatfall, and I wasn't always able to answer their questions because I'd forgotten so much of my own book.) Perhaps the end result—the book—is less important to me than the act of writing the book. I have shoved books into drawers after finishing them, with no intention of sharing them, ever. I don't know if that's exactly analogous to the drawing metaphor, but there's something there. 

And one step further, I wonder how such a notion squares with the old quote attributed to Dorothy Parker: "I hate writing. I love having written." There are times when the act of writing is difficult and not quite pleasant. For me, writing isn't the work. It's work, yes, but not the work. For me, the satisfying work, the real work of a novel, comes in the rewriting: the revisions, the editing, the surgery of taking it apart and reassembling it in a better way. 

I don't have any conclusions to draw from these things; I just find it interesting to think about them. (And then blog inconclusively about them.) 

Analog desk achieved

Desks analog and digital