There's a lot to love about Oliver Sacks. He's a cute old codger (somewhat like me now that I've turned 50, but perhaps I'm being premature) and a good storyteller. I wouldn't say his prose has the beauty of say a Steinbeck or other great writers, but he has a great way of telling stories that comes through very well in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings.
This past Sunday I was going through the latest Brain Pickings email (something all people should sign up for as it's a wonderful collection of writing, thought, and art by Maria Popova). In it, Popova included a piece on Oliver Sacks and his friendship with the poet Thom Gunn. In it, she includes a quote by Sacks on how he completed his first book (I am routinely familiar with the thought of shooting myself while on or in the process of missing a deadline) and what it felt like to drop it off at his publisher.
I have felt this same sensation and I think its a feeling that all writers search for either for the first time or again and again. There are two highs in writing. The first is when we are lost in the work, sometimes for hours, and the second is when we see our creation in print.
At any rate, here is Sacks' quote:
"I was dissatisfied with my 1967 manuscript and decided to rewrite the book. It was the first of September, and I said to myself, “If I do not have the finished manuscript in Faber’s hands by September 10, I shall have to kill myself.” And under this threat, I started writing. Within a day or so, the feeling of threat had disappeared, and the joy of writing took over. I was no longer using drugs, but it was a time of extraordinary elation and energy. It seemed to me almost as though the book were being dictated, everything organizing itself swiftly and automatically. I would sleep for just a couple of hours a night. And a day ahead of schedule, on September 9, I took the book to Faber & Faber. Their offices were in Great Russell Street, near the British Museum, and after dropping off the manuscript, I walked over to the museum. Looking at artifacts there – pottery, sculptures, tools, and especially books and manuscripts, which had long outlived their creators – I had the feeling that I, too, had produced something. Something modest, perhaps, but with a reality and existence of its own, something that might live on after I was gone.
"I have never had such a strong feeling, a feeling of having made something real and of some value, as I did with that first book, which was written in the face of such threats from Friedman and, for that matter, from myself. Returning to New York, I felt a sense of joyousness and almost blessedness. I wanted to shout, “Hallelujah!” but I was too shy. Instead, I went to concerts every night – Mozart operas and Fischer-Dieskau singing Schubert – feeling exuberant and alive."