Shaun Levin

The Daily Find

In Writing on April 20, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Four days have passed since the last post. So much for twenty minutes a day! What better time to talk about the habit of art, the dedication, the ritual, the bum-on-seat thing. Guilt is a great motivator. Sometimes I think that without guilt, it might take us longer to get back to our writing desks, those of us who don’t rush to it on a daily basis. There are times when I go to my desk willingly, and others when it feels like torture, when I can literally feel my feet dragging along the very old carpets (which the landlord refuses to change) in my house. Mary Oliver talks about the importance of turning up at your desk every day. She says that if we do it every day, the muse is more generous; if we appear every day, so will the muse. I think it’s important to have a particular place to go to to write, a desk, a sofa, a cafe, somewhere that is the same every day, so that it feels like a turning up, a reporting for duty. For writing, the more you do it, become a duty. At some point you make the choice to do it, to define yourself by it. I wonder if the daily reporting for duty becomes harder once one has made that choice. In the beginning I found it easier to write every day, especially in the days before I had published very much, before I had been to many workshops, before I taught regular workshops, before I thought that anyone would want to read what I had written. I kept notebooks, and as Natalie Goldberg told me to do, I completed a notebook every month, a whole spiral-bound cheap notebook. Nothing too precious, she said. And what that keeping of a notebook did was made me acutely aware of my surroundings, of the value of everything: conversations, feelings, landscapes, the poetry and writings of others. Everything went into it. The keeping of the notebook was my apprenticeship. At least ten years. That’s how long the writer’s apprenticeship is. In an ideal world, you would not publish a thing in that times. You would go deeper and deeper into yourself and your vision and your way of recording the world. And then you would say something. There is great advantage – at least that’s what I tell myself – to not having published anything substantial for the first ten or fifteen years of my writing life.

For further exploration: publication, the habit of art, keeping a notebook. To read: Joan Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook”.

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