Monday, June 1, 2009

When the Writing Comes Well

I have a wonderful book called Flannery O'Connor, Images of Grace that never fails to encourage. It's clear that O'Connor's struggle with writing, lupus and matters of faith were intertwined, that cord of three strands not easily broken. Her honesty about illness ("I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired") and the hardship of writing ("Sometimes I work for months and have to throw everything away") have a purgative effect.

I guess I wasn't surprised to hear her attitude toward writing as a discipline (she wrote daily). It's not unusual to hear the word "discipline" attributed to a bygone era — but hearing someone who left a writing legacy say the obvious — that writing is work, is like hearing someone finally say, "Hey, you know what, the king has no clothes on." Everybody takes a cleansing breath.

So, writing is work. And so is editing. All art is work. And sometimes the only reward for work seems to be more of it. Still, O'Connor emphasized the importance of rigor when it comes to writing. The rest of the quote for June is that talent "… is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away." Habits like reading and writing continually. O'Connor wrote daily and was honest about how hard it was. "I write only about two hours every day because that's all the energy I have, but I don't let anything interfere with those two hours." She was right about the discipline — when I go more than two days without having written, I lose the thread of the story and the skill in weaving it.

Yet, O'Connor found it important to keep up the habit of writing, even amid the sense of futility, ultimately because she didn't believe the effort was futile. Even after working for months and still having to throw everything away. "I don't think any of that was time wasted. Something goes on that makes it easier when [the writing] does come well." And that's the sense of satisfaction — when the writing comes well.

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