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Humble Beginnings

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

—Ernest Hemingway

Last weekend I watched a documentary on how the film adaptation of Gone with the Wind was made. The title was “The Making of a Legend: Gone with the Wind.” It was a fascinating two hours highlighting the painstaking process of bringing nearly half a million words of Margaret Mitchell’s prose to life on the screen. But, bring it to life, they did! I am one of those who saw the movie way before I ever read the book, and I cannot read it without picturing Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh as Rhett and Scarlett. The opening pages of the book seem to summon Selznick’s version of the scene wherein Scarlett sits on her porch flirting with the infatuated Tarleton twins. The film is a masterpiece that is worthy of the novel. It is one of my favorites, and yet, during production, people wondered if it would ever reach completion. “Selznick’s Folly,” they called it.

As interesting as the documentary was, it is not what I was inspired to write about this time. It caused me to think again about the novel itself. It seems unclear whether or not Margaret Mitchell intended to publish Gone with the Wind when she wrote it. It does seem to be the case, however, judging from archives of personal letters, that she was surprised at the widespread appeal of the eventual bestseller. We like to picture Mitchell in a fancy office, typing away at this most famous manuscript. The truth is she wrote it out of boredom on a used Remington typewriter at a tiny wooden table in an apartment she called a “dump.” Not only that, it took her a few years to complete the draft, throughout which time historians write that she used portions of it to shore up her unsteady couch.

Gone with the Wind did not have the royal birth that we imagine, but neither did many other famous books. In the end, it made no difference that a portion of the manuscript once held up Margaret Mitchell’s couch. The important thing is that she saw it through to publication. The writing process, I find, is really comparable to so much of life. At times we may not totally see what we mean to accomplish with a particular project. The skies may not always be clear in flight, but with diligence and patience, a landing place comes into view. Let us not forget that something or someone of humble origin always holds an unforeseen power to impact the world.

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