I just ran across this post on writing, via Progressive Geographies. One of the things I found worth noting was Simone de Beauvoir‘s comment that before she began writing she spent a half hour reading over what she wrote the day before. I guess this is just common sense, and maybe everyone who writes seriously does this out of habit, but since I tend to be impatient, over-eager to start producing when I sit down, I fail to practice this good habit more often than not. I am going to try to do better.
JL: For me, five or six hours of writing is plenty. That’s a lot. So, if I get that many hours the other stuff feels satisfying. The other stuff feels like a kind of grace. But if I have to do that stuff when I haven’t written—
PA: Oh, that’s terrible.
JL: That’s a terrible thing.
I have posted on this before, but the quote it seems Lethem’s grace is a kind of negative one, a grace that comes from having done his duty, a grace that merely occupies the place guilt would be if he had not written. And Auster agrees eagerly with how awful that guilt is. It seems here again you see writers, even the great ones, seeing writing as a duty, and being motivated to write by the guilt they feel if they do not write. They don’t see it instead as a pleasure, as an activity that brings joy or delight. Much better, it seems to me, if we were to seek the delight in writing, in the sound of the words in our head, or the right-rhythm of a good sentence, or the hope embedded in the activity of sharing our inner worlds with others. This other approach would entail letting go of our fear of guilt, and setting about the project of seeking delight: learning what it feels like, how it comes, when it comes, and even how, in the best case, we might be able to summon it. Not at all easy, of course, but I think we mostly don’t even try, that we mostly just fall into the default conception of writing-as-duty, and forget to seek the joy it can bring.