Thursday, November 29, 2007


Jane Smiley says,
“ There is a difference between discipline and ritual, even though they sometimes seem similar. Discipline is a form of training, a way of developing good habits or breaking bad ones . . . . Rituals may encourage rather than deter, if the ritual is a type of formalized preparation for the day’s work . . . . But the dangers with rituals is that they can as easily prevent you from getting on with your work as enable you. Any time you begin to think that conditions have to be just right for you to sit down to your novel, chances are you are avoiding it rather than engaging with it”

While writing my first draft, I really tried to take the advice implied in this distinction. I think in the past I have romanticized rituals—feeling that I had to have a certain notebook, a certain pen, a dedicated space. This time I kept telling myself, nothing is important as adding sentences. All the rest is a kind of busy work. Just add sentences every day, no matter what. That means repressing the impulse to develop rituals.

I nevertheless ended up developing regular habits regarding the pen and paper and the chair, but it was without aggrandizing them. When it was cold on the porch in my chair where I spent most of the summer writing in longhand, or when it was noisy from lawn mowers in the neighbors yards, I went inside and found another chair and kept writing. I didn't let the ritual keep me from being disciplined.

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