While working on line edits for my new novel, I’ve been trying to justify my glacial pace to myself: it must be because I am busy with teaching; or because I spend too much time writing nonfiction; or because I am a perfectionist; or because English is my third language; or because I am lazy; and so on. In a fit of despair, I decided to read up on Vladimir Nabokov’s editing process, and stumbled upon an article by Maxim D. Shrayer: “After Rapture and Recapture: Transformations in the Drafts of Nabokov’s Stories,” which was published in Russian Review. Shrayer cites Nabokov’s preface to Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin:
Rough drafts, false scents, half explored trails, dead ends of inspiration, are of little intrinsic importance. An artist should ruthlessly destroy his manuscripts after publication, lest they mislead academic mediocrities into thinking that it is possible to unravel the mysteries of genius by studying canceled readings. In art, purpose and plan are nothing; only the results count.
This makes the upcoming publication of The Original of Laura, the unfinished manuscript that Nabokov wanted destroyed, a tad problematic, but that’s not my subject here. I was more interested in the distinction Nabokov drew between ‘Rapture’ and ‘Recapture,’ the former being the state of conception, a process not to be interrupted but to be followed wherever it leads, and the latter the state of composition, which is a more laborious, conscious process, and begins with the very first draft. Shrayer’s article demonstrates the extent to which Nabokov recaptured: everything from stylistic revisions to structural changes. I think I needed to read this to be inspired. Back to work.