I’m wading through piles of paper trying to find a specific document that I must have mis-filed/incorporated in a pile of ‘not worth filing’ stuff/generally misplaced/etc. Instead, I’ve found a bunch of documents pertaining to the 2005 Christmas Lectures. Specifically, early drafts of the scripts, with scribbled notes from rehearsals and run-throughs.
Captured in the margins are moments of insight. Such as: when the opening line of Lecture 3 changed from ‘Look at your arm!’ (no, really – and no, I didn’t write that) into ‘You’re all turkeys!’. Which I think ended up as ‘You’re all vegetables! And some of you are turkeys!’, but you get the point.
Then there’s the musing where James asked, of an entire lecture, ‘What’s the question we’re addressing here?’, and I recall sitting bolt upright and saying ‘Not quite the right question. It should be: what’s the perspective shift we’ve inspired?’, that led to refocussing the entire lecture around the rôle evolution has played in shaping our diets (even later drafts defocussed the lecture again, but that’s another issue).
There are the parenthetical comments that note the first appearances of The Goat, and The Squad of TA Soldiers (both eventually dropped again), and the moment I first dreamed up having a mad machine serve Krebs ‘the pill on a plate’ so beloved of 60s Sci-Fi, that ended up as the opening of lecture 5.
This is how I like to remember the creative process. Rewrites are painful, but the moments of inspiration, of throwing out cruft and fixing something, of refactoring entire trains of thought – those are magical events.
Writing at that sort of level, with that sort of care – agonising over both individual words and the shape of sentences, about how paragraphs flow, and about driving driving ever onwards whilst simultaneously coaxing contrasts of intense grandeur and amicable ease – it’s hard.
And I like it.
I should do it more.