This Writing Life

Last month two Shaw friends asked me to write an article about My Fair Lady for an upcoming Shaw publication. I did not tell them that I would have paid them $100 apiece – that’s how much fun I knew I was going to have writing it. (I was right.)

This morning I made a few last-minute edits and sent it out. Now that it’s finished, I’m almost missing it! The next step will be hearing if it’s suitable for the journal and finding out what changes need to be made.

Today’s post – in keeping with the “Write with Jean” title of this blog – is going to list some thoughts I had while I was writing the article.

  • It took me only 45 days to write an article that’s 6,400 words long with 53 notes – and I was on a cruise and away from my computer for 8 of those days.
  • It helped that I was writing about two plays I knew very well – Pygmalion and My Fair Lady (and I’d seen a wonderful Broadway revival of My Fair Lady in May).
  • Miracles happen. I hadn’t thought about going to see My Fair Lady when I went to New York. (Stupid! Stupid!) The friend I was traveling with wanted to see it – thank heaven.
  • When you’re a writer, you never know what’s going to be useful. Thirty years ago I bought a battered copy of My Fair Lady at a used bookstore. Time and again I started to throw it away because a) it was falling apart, b) I knew I’d never do anything with it, and c) we needed to make space for newer books. Each time I ended up putting it back on the shelf. (Maybe I’m a little bit psychic!)
  • The internet and Amazon.com are the biggest boons to researchers ever. In the past, I would have had to drive to Tampa to use the university library there – and probably spend the night in a motel because there was too much reading to do in one day.
    Not this time! I used a database to read the articles I needed online (often in my pajamas). Amazon shipped me the books I needed, cheaply and quickly. (I buy used books whenever I can.)
  • Google Books is the second biggest boon to researchers, ever. I was able to track down quotes there, figure out which book I needed, and then order the book. (Sometimes Google Books even provided the page number, and I didn’t have to order the book. Please don’t tell anyone I did that!)
  • There was another miracle: in 2012 the Oxford University Press published a scholarly book about the making of My Fair Lady. What a gold mine of information! (Without Amazon I might not have known about it.)
  • I usually listen to Pandora while I’m working. Time and again, while I was writing about a song from the show (“I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”), it would start playing on my computer.
  • Again and again Charlie spotted a coffee cup on the table where I was working, quietly picked it up, and warmed my coffee for me. (Today is our 45th anniversary.)
  • I write at a table in our living-dining room because I refuse to work at a desk. I hate desks and offices. They’re lonely (even though I’m an introvert), and sitting in that kind of setting feels too much like I’m working. (Well, that’s what I was doing – but I don’t want the reminder.)
  • There was another miracle: Last week Charlie recorded three TCM broadcasts of some Leonard Bernstein talks on the old Omnibus show. Guess what – one of them was about musical theater, and it was done right after My Fair Lady opened on Broadway. That broadcast gave me a broad perspective on musical theater that was a huge help with my paper.
  • I never used headings when I wrote papers in college and graduate school. (Listen – in college I wasn’t even allowed to use dashes!) Thank heaven for headings. You don’t have to make a transition every time you start a new paragraph. Just insert a heading and you can go off in a new direction.
  • Maybe it’s because I’m an experienced Shaw scholar, or because I’m older, or maybe I’m just braver than I used to be – but this is the first time I’ve dared to write a scholarly article that talks about me and my experiences. I even quoted myself – yikes!
  • I used a trick I’d learned from James Hillman’s books: find a seemingly unrelated detail and find a place for it. So – for example – Lerner and Loewe put a bust of Plato into Henry Higgins’s phonetics studio. I mentioned it in the section about Plato’s ideas about language.

Writing this paper about My Fair Lady was so exhilarating that I’ve gone back to working on my book about Pygmalion and Major Barbara. More about that project soon.

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4 thoughts on “This Writing Life

  1. Kelly Pomeroy

    My goodness, Jean. I guess you were so swept away by your love for My Fair Lady that you completely overlooked the ambiguity of the wording you used: “I did not tell them that I would have paid them $100 apiece to write this article” – especially since the more usual reading of that sentence would give a very different interpretation than what you obviously intended! (Well, you intended it obviously enough that you could get away with it.)

    I’m glad you had so much fun doing the project.

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