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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Friday, July 29, 2011

First Steps Toward Happiness / It Must Give Pleasure

The first step toward a felicitous relation to your own writing is to do it on a regular schedule. You can't be a happy writer by avoiding writing. You will not enjoy the avoidance any more than you will enjoy the unpleasantness of the writing itself. Either way you are screwed without a schedule to anchor you.

Next, I want you to take pleasure in good prose, first by reading appropriate models. Find writers whose prose you actively enjoy and admire. For some, like me, it might be Guy Davenport, or John Kronik, or Ricardo Gullón. A model whose prose you could realistically emulate in your own lifetime is probably better than, say, Ralph Waldo Emerson or Francisco de Quevedo. Then take pleasure in a well-formed paragraph of your own making. Don't be satisfied with bad or mediocre writing, because it is hard to derive pleasure from it. If you are a scholar of literature you have a certain advantage, in that the very objects of study are masterpieces of writing.

Discard unhelpful myths. Don't believe that it has to be unpleasant in order for you know you are doing it right. Don't feel guilty if particular parts of the process come to seem almost effortless. That just means you've achieved some level of skill after a lot of effort.

Derive power from your existing strengths, whatever those are. A good working memory that allows you to keep track of complex materials? A keen philosophical mind at ease with abstract concepts? An innate sense of rhythm and balance? A training in another, unrelated discipline? A metaphorical imagination that makes you adept with analogies and comparisons? Synaesthesia? An ability to concentrate on a single problem for hours on end? Good problem-solving abilities or mental flexibility? A sense of humor? A large vocabulary? It's likely that you have one or more such abilities, including one I have not listed, to some degree.

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What I am not saying here is that a "positive attitude" is sufficient. I have no patience for that kind of useless advice. What I am giving, rather, are some of the components of a positive attitude, components which you will have to put together with some serious thought, effort, and attentiveness. Nor am I promising painlessness or an easy shortcut to get to where you are going. If you are not a happy writer now, it will take some time to get there, because you have a lot of bad habits to overcome.

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