Friday, 16 February 2007

John Frum, you're late

I'm reading North Face of Soho, the fourth instalment of Clive James' memoirs. In the opening of one chapter, he managed to combine two of my favourite topics: writing and cargo cults. As I forgot to mark John Frum Day on February 15, let me celebrate it with this passage from James on the cargo cult of outlining.

A good general tip for would-be writers in any field is to beware of outlines. If you keep going back to elaborate the outline, instead of getting to work on the first of its listed topics, then the outline has become a substitute for the project, which will never get done. It works like a cargo cult: the natives lay out bits and pieces of junk in the rough shape of an aircraft, and wait for it to fly. They start fighting over who gets the window seat. But the thing never stirs, and eventually the jungle closes over its forlorn outline.

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