You may or may not have noticed that I’ve been having some trouble writing anything here. Autumn has this kind of congealing effect on my brain – I feel pallid and sluggish, like a custard square under hot lights. Why this should stop me from writing anything I’m not sure. I guess I’m just making excuses for myself, in the same way we put the kettle on because the clock says 10:30 in the morning, not because we really feel like a cup of tea (understand, this situation exists only on some otherwordly speculative plane).
Today I stumbled across this paper (reproduced below in its entirety), which, according to the reviewer (who carefully examined it with lemon juice and xrays) was a ‘pleasure to examine’. Here is failure, turned on its head, footnoted, and looked upon as triumph. I know I’m just trying to make myself feel better, but maybe we need more of this kind of celebration of non-doing, non-creating.
When I came across a brief quote entitled ‘On Not Tweeting’ by Donald Knuth, my reflex was to think: “Well, by the same token, someone has to be not writing all the time and not creating anything of any consequence all the time. Someone has to be neither building up strong foundations nor rushing off across the frontier.” I know there’s no particular logic here. Again, these are my efforts. Maybe it’s just that I need a proper desk that is not a couch, some comfortable Reeboks, and some rolled-up shirt sleeves.
Stephen King at his desk, by Jill Krementz in The Writer’s Desk
“OK, it’s nine in the morning. All I’ve got to do is write. But I go hours before I’m able to write a word. I make tea. I mean, I used to make tea all day long. And exercise, I do that every other day. I sharpened pencils in the old days when pencils were sharpened. I just ran pencils down. Ten, eleven, twelve, one, two, three, four – this is every day. This is damn near every day. It’s four-thirty and I’m beginning to panic. It’s like a coiling spring. I’m really unhappy. I mean, you’re going to lose the day if you keep this up long enough. Five: I start to write. Seven: I go home. That happens over and over and over again. So why don’t I work at a bank and then come in at five and start writing? Because I need those seven hours of gonging around. I’m just not that disciplined. I don’t write in the morning – I just try to write.”
— Nonfiction author John McPhee (via a great interview in Paris Review, in which McPhee is described thus: “[He] has sharp blue eyes, thinning gray hair, and the full beard of a shy man.” Also, this: “One miserable November day I was down there on the sideline, wet, cold. And I looked up to the top of the stadium, and there was the press box. Shelter! I knew they had heaters in there with them, and these people were sitting there in complete comfort while we’re miserable down here on the field. They’re writing, they’re typing, and they’re warm. Then and there I decided to become a writer.”)