Maria Konnikova

Welcome to my blog. I’ll do my best to update it regularly (or semi-regularly, at the least…) with news, writing updates, and other assorted thoughts. Read, enjoy, and please share your thoughts and comments. If you’re looking for psychology pieces at the New Yorker, you can find them here. If you’re looking for my old blog about literature and psychology, Literally Psyched, you can find it here.

Hour glass illustration

A page out of Nabokov

March 29, 2012

As I struggle to finish the first draft of my manuscript, I find this strangely inspiring and comforting:

It’s the first page of Vladimir Nabokov’s first draft of Invitation to a Beheading, or, in its Russian incarnation (pictured here), Приглашение на Казнь. As I look at it, I’m reminded of Mark Twain’s words, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.” It’s easy to forget that hardly ever do we get to the lightning without a struggle.

Many thanks to Jonathan Gottschall for providing the image–and more inspiring first drafts on his blog, here.

And now, onwards with the writing.

 

A thank you to sure-eyed reader JSM for tracking down and providing the accurate version of the Mark Twain quote.

9 Comments

  1. JoseAngel says:

    I’d like to see the same page on Nabokov’s personal copy of the printed version. Maybe it’s just as messy with corrections. Once you start revising…

  2. John Stuart Mill says:

    Nice blog. Well-written, persipacious. I just read and enjoyed your essay at The Atlantic, so . . .

    Regarding the Mark Twain quote: The correct quote is:

    The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

  3. John Stuart Mill says:

    Please see the source below. It appears to be authentic, but I have not looked up the letter.

    The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
    – Letter to George Bainton, 10/15/1888

  4. John Stuart Mill says:

    Sorry about being a pest. But I don’t want to perpetuate an error. The folllowing is the exact quote (note there is no ampersand and the “tis “) and I have verified it. Google has the book online.

    The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.
    George Bainton, The Art of Authorship, pp. 87–88 (1890).

  5. Excellent. Thank you so much. Not a pest at all–I really appreciate it. The last thing I want to do is have an incorrect quotation. I’ll change it now.

  6. Hello Maria.

    The right word was indeed decisive for Nabokov as well, and there is a reason for this.

    Nabokov admitted in two interviews in the 60s, there is a subjacent level of reading in several of his books, among them he named “Lolita” explicitly.

    For instance in one of these interviews he said: “(Lolita) was like the composition of a beautiful puzzle – its composition and its solution at the same time, since one is mirror view of the other, depending on the way you look”.

    And indeed, we can see phenomenons of reflexion in the novel (e.g. Pratt / Trapp, Blanche Schwarzman / Melanie Weiss, the widow Haze / the widow Hays, etc…).

    Here’s a link treating the subject if you’re interested:

    https://wittevlinders.wordpress.com/

    .

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