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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Writing on a schedule

I had several conversations today about how to fit a creative live (non-paying, of course) into the necessary life (maintaining the material aspects - body, dwelling, dependents, etc.). One of the most interesting questions I was asked was "What is important to you about reading books?" I surprised myself by answering without hesitation, "Learning about myself." Of course we want to learn about each other and about the world around and beyond us, but what feeds this curiosity is the impact the knowledge has on self-knowledge. I don't often read a book just to put myself to sleep or forget an hour, though I know plenty of people who do. I read a novel -- I should say I finish a novel, because I start plenty of them and don't finish -- because it has taken me on a journey of self-discovery.

That led to the discussion of how writing books seldom pays the rent, except for maybe six or seven best-selling writers. What they used to call "mid-list" books (now probably referred to as "instant remainders") seldom make money much for anyone, not the author, nor the publisher. They were published as statistical experiments, to see if among them might be the nugget of a surprise bestseller. Usually those are the books I buy, the ones on the remainder table, discounted and worn without having been adopted. For some reason, my favorite reading often comes from these piles. That gives me hope as a writer. Someone spent all that time and got very little money in order to reach and affect someone like me. There's something amazing in that.

All of which brings me to confess that ridiculous: I'm working on a novel I started four years ago, and have no time to engage in such an unremunerative activity. I have plenty on my literary plate already, but talking to another writer and editor convinced me that I should undertake this quixotic journey hopefully, by setting myself a schedule. Say, one page per day. Or four pages a week. Or an hour a day. Find some piece of time and give it to tht activity with discipline.

After studying ballet for most of my life, I can appreciate the importance of discipline in art. Here's my villanelle on the subject. Some find it dismal, I find it hopeful, because if you love practicing your art, you wouldn't want to stop until the end.

Ballet Teacher’s Catechism
– for Rosalie

You’ll practice every day until you die.
When years of sweat have dried, call it Art.
Eight en croix, thirty-two on each side.
You kids only like the easy part.

When years of sweat have dried, call it Art,
glittering threads whose weft you never see.
You kids only like the easy part.
You don’t understand the work of simplicity.

Glittering threads, the weft you never see—
beauty is woven on a loom of pain.
You don’t understand the work. Behind simplicity
is a dancer with a one-pointed brain.

Beauty is woven on a loom of pain.
Only repetition can make a movement pleasing.
The dancer with a one-pointed brain
trains sinew and bone past habit and reason.

Only repetition can make a movement pleasing.
Eight en croix, thirty-two on each side.
To train sinew and bone past habit and reason
you’ll practice every day until you die.

-- from Femme au chapeau