I need to write more

In a way this post is the classic “I’m sorry I haven’t been posting much lately” post.  But the title also means that I had a realization today that I need to write more.  Not write more in the sense that I need to publish more, to pad my cv, although I guess that’s always generally true.  What I mean is that I need to engage more in the act of writing, in the act of writing down my thoughts about whatever it is that I am trying to process at the moment.  When I was writing my last book I was writing everyday, consistently working language into a form that communicated my meaning to others.  But when I am not working on a long project like that, then sometimes I am writing every day, such as when I am working on an article, but most of the time I am not writing every day, but instead filling my days with other tasks, like reading, meeting, email, etc.

This blog is supposed to be a “work blog” and so in writing more on it I do need to limit myself to content that is relevant to my work, but I think I have been censoring much beyond that limit; I have not been writing much here because I have been too conscious of what the audience will think, too worried that the ideas, and the writing, have to be polished before I can hit ‘publish’.  But I think I need to try to let that worry go, and just start writing more.

Writing, Guilt, Delight

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.

A more theoretical point comes from the discussion between Jonathan Lethem and Paul Auster:

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.

Not an Ad for Dropbox

I am revising the manuscript of my book, and yesterday I deleted a whole paragraph I thought I didn’t need.  But today of course I realized I couldn’t live without it.  So I went to the dropbox website, which stores hundreds of past versions of each of my documents, opened a version from yesterday, copied the paragraph, and pasted it into my manuscript.  Wow, that was really, really nice.  So nice I am now blogging about it.

OK, so I guess this is an ad for dropbox.  But since the service is free and (I think) without ads, I am not sure I feel all that guilty…

Foucault and Writing

A recent post at Progressive Geographies offers this quote from Foucault about writing:

Does there exist a pleasure in writing? I don’t know. One thing is certain, that there is, I think, a very strong obligation to write. I don’t really know where this obligation to write comes from… You are made aware of it in a number of different ways. For example, by the fact that you feel extremely anxious and tense when you haven’t done your daily page of writing. In writing this page you give yourself and your existence a kind of absolution. This absolution is indispensable for the happiness of the day… How is it that that this gesture which is so vain, so fictitious, so narcissistic, so turned in on itself and which consists of sitting down every morning at one’s desk and scrawling over a certain number of blank pages can have this effect of benediction on the rest of the day?

You write so that the life you have around you, and outside, far from the sheet of paper, this life which is not much fun, but annoying and full of worries, exposed to others, can melt into the little rectangle before you and of which you are the master. But this absorption of swarming life into the immobile swarming of letters never happens.

Michel Foucault, (1969) ‘Interview with Claude Bonnefoy’, Unpublished typescript, IMEC B14, pp. 29-30; also available as Michel Foucault à Claude Bonnefoy – Entretien Interprété par Éric Ruf et Pierre Lamandé, Paris: Gallimard.

For me the quote started out quite hopeful, the part about there being a pleasure in writing.  I thought, “yeah, yeah, tell me about the pleasure in writing!”  But he quickly casts doubt on that, and moves into saying its an obligation, and we only know that because if we don’t write then we feel bad. And then we learn it is an obligation to do something vain, fictitious, narcissistic, and turned in on itself.  And then he takes a Nietzschean turn and says we write in order to be in control over (or even dominate) the world around us.  But of course that falls apart because the Apollonian attempt to make sense of the world can’t ever fully mask the Dionysian fact that it lacks meaning, that the world just is.  At the end, it seems to me, we are left with no good reason to write.  Foucault at his most brooding.  He gets accused of brooding all the time, and maybe he does, but there is so much hope in his work as well, even if there is only a glint of it here.

That first sentence proposes that there is pleasure in writing.  It seems there has to be if we are going to do it regularly.  Not a negative pleasure of not-feeling-bad.  But a positive pleasure, a joy, a delight, a voluptas.  The delight in language, in its rhythm and music.  The delight in thinking through an idea, spending time with it, turning it over and savoring it from all sides.  The delight in opening out to the world, in articulating oneself in order to connect up with others, to pass one’s excitement about an idea on to someone else.

I think if we want to write, to do it well and frequently, it is not so much about scheduling it properly (although that helps!).  It is more about becoming aware of the delight in writing, learning when it comes and what it feels like, and deciding that is the reason we do it.