Friday, May 1, 2015

Joseph Mitchell, scissors, paper clips

Joseph Mitchell’s labor of writing:

And labor it truly was, as can be readily seen from the few draft examples Mitchell left behind. Seated at the sturdy Underwood typewriter that he would use his entire New Yorker career, Mitchell would patiently cast and recast sentences, sometimes dozens of times, changing just a word or two with each iteration until an entire paragraph came together and seemed right. He would move through his drafting of the story in this slow, painstaking fashion, at certain points (in that pre-computer era) using a scissors to cut these passages apart, sometimes sentence by sentence, and physically rearranging them to get a better feel for the narrative rhythm. In so doing he often used paper clips to hold the sentence strips together, and these constructions would come to resemble a long, flexible washboard or a kind of primitive girdle. All this fussing was exceedingly time-consuming, even for a magazine writer, which helped establish Mitchell’s growing reputation for deliberation.

Thomas Kunkel, Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of “The New Yorker” (New York: Random House, 2015).
I haven’t started to read this book, really: I’ve only dipped in. A biography whose index includes the entry “paper clips used by” is a biography I’m going to like.

comments: 2

Fresca said...

I bet those cut-and-clipped constructions were beautiful to behold.

Michael Leddy said...

I wish there were a photo in the book.