Sometime in the middle of Saturday night, I figured out how I wanted to start my Louis Armstrong biography. I’ve been more or less ready to write for the past month or two, but inspiration refused to flow, which in my case usually means that I haven’t yet answered some fundamental question of form. I had roughly the same problem (as you may recall) when I started writing All in the Dances a year ago, and no sooner did I correct my false start than I was off and sprinting. I’m hoping for the same results this year: I’d like to wrap up the prologue and complete a working draft of the first chapter by April 1 at the latest.
I thought about telling you the specific details of my early-morning inspiration, but I’m afraid to jinx myself, so I won’t, at least not yet. We’ll see how it takes shape over the next few weeks. I’ll know I’m on the right track if the opening section of the prologue falls into place easily and uneventfully, and should that happen I might open the bag and give you a peek inside.
Somebody asked me the other day if I’ve ever suffered from writer’s block. It’s a subject that interests me greatly, so much so that I actually gave thought a number of years ago to writing a book about it. My answer was that long years of writing to inflexible deadlines had knocked most of the psychological self-indulgence out of me, making it possible for me to compose on command, but that I still experienced on occasion many of the anxieties associated with writer’s block, only sped up. It’s sort of like David Ives’ one-act play about fruit flies: I’m perfectly capable of going through all the usual pre-compositional horrors, but they rarely last for more than a day. For me, the big problem is when I simply don’t want to sit down and write, which is usually. Writing a first draft isn’t pleasurable to me (as opposed to editing, which I enjoy).
Be that as it may, I’m ready to get going in earnest. Igor Stravinsky, who wrote most of his music to commission, once said that when he knew how long a piece was supposed to be, he got excited. I know what he meant. I’ve been thinking about Louis for months, waiting patiently for the coin to drop in my head, and now it seems to have happened. The first sentence hasn’t come to me yet (that’s the next step), but at least I know the approximate shape of the container into which I plan to pour the story of his eventful life. At last, I’m excited.