There is a fantastic moment in a 1971 sketch with those late, greats: comedian Eric Morecambe and conductor André Previn. Previn is conducting a small ensemble in Grieg’s piano concerto; Morecambe is at the piano.
The musical intro is great – unlike Morecambe’s playing. Previn stops ‘the band’ and comes over to the piano:
“What are you doing? You’re playing all the wrong notes.”
“I’m playing all the right notes – but not necessarily in the right order.”
More and more it strikes me that writing – especially poetry – is just like that. Often I find myself looking at drafts and thinking ‘that’s ok – but are they the right words?’.
Sometimes you want to words to tell you that they’re not to the right ones or that they’re in the wrong place, but they’re complicit in your failure (if you can call it that). They sit where you put them and wait. They offer no clue, no assistance. If you’re lucky they resonate somehow, usually silently in your head, but that’s about it.
“What are you doing? You’ve written all the wrong words.”
“I’m writing some of the right words – and almost certainly not entirely in the right order.”
It’s the striving to get all the right notes in the right order that keeps us going.
You should check out the sketch if you don’t know it; it’s very funny.