I referenced earlier this week an interview with Toni Morrison in which she talked about some of the difficulties of writing. The entirety of the interview is well worth a read, and there are many wisdoms to pocket and turn over. Among them are details of her creative process. She says: “I realized that for me this ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space that I can only call nonsecular . . . Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process.”
I am always drawn to learning about the rituals of writers, artists, and creatives, perhaps because I feel I have very little in the way of pre-writing observances. Candidly, I can’t tell whether this means I have not yet hit my creative stride, I need to spend more time reflecting on the optimal conditions for ascending to a personal Mount Helicon, or I have, for better or worse, learned with age to be pragmatic – I nearly want to say “unfussy” – about the circumstances in which I put pen to paper.
In graduate school, I was particular about my work habits, especially when I was staring down an essay prompt. I had to wake before seven — before the light fully saturated the basement apartment I lived in on R Street in Georgetown — and work on an empty stomach. I would begin with a gridded notepad or plain white computer paper and write by hand waif-like filaments of thought. I would draft in loopy, sloppy cursive even though I have tidy, minuscule, highly-recognizable penmanship that I take some pride in when writing in literally any other forum. It felt to me that writing in my usual hand would impinge on the speed of my thought. These threads would gradually coagulate into full sentences, connected by circle and arrow and caret, and I would build in momentum until either hunger pangs or a complete first paragraph materialized, at which point I would begin to write on my laptop or break for lunch. Often, these two happenings occurred in curious synchrony with one another, and my work for the day would be done. I could then move through my afternoon coursework and errands with something like accomplishment.
The shape of my writing nowadays could not be further from that disciplined liturgy. I write in the car, while running, over the head of the small child nestled in my lap, on napkins, in margins of receipts, during my nightly stroll with Tilly. I write around and between appointments and errands, just before I squeeze in a run or just after being interrupted for the twentieth time by my dog barking at the mailman, my daughter barging in asking me to unwrap her granola bar, or an impromptu stand-up with Mr. Magpie on the logistics for the week. I publish with virtually no revision. I am sure the writing has suffered, but the inspiration has not. I feel I am now more permanently dispositioned to absorb and connect with the phenomena that for me must precede writing. I find myself consciously cultivating my own susceptibility to these curiosities: a well-turned phrase, a candid glimpse into someone else’s life, a happenstance run-in with nature, the way my son’s matriculation to pre-school stirred something primal in me. Perhaps, being generous to myself, the “place where I expect to make the contact” (as Morrison put it) has become less about the physical and ritualistic conditions in which I write, but the degree to which I remain prone to the sensations around me as I move through my life. But I sit here and wonder today whether I should spend more time in the revision rooms in which I dwelt during graduate school? In some ways, I feel I’ve become a disciplined observer but a lax writer. Perhaps some day I will learn to bring the two roles in parity with one another: sharp eye, sharp prose. For now, my writing moves across experience like a procumbent branch. And that will have to do.
+Do you consider yourself creative?
+Writing about my grad school habits brought me right back to thinking about the kind old French woman who lived upstairs.
+Building a literary life raft.
+Who would be in your personal canon?
+On dedicating myself to writing.
+If you’re interested in this topic, you might enjoy this little book on the creative habits of many celebrated artists and authors. I used to give it as a gift to members of my team. My point was that it’s helpful to reflect on when you’re at your creative best.
+Just came across this reasonably-priced, chic sunhat!
+Such a fabulous, bold top for spring.
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+Satin mary janes for the lowkey bride.
+Great to have a set of these coloring pages on hand for lazy weekends at home with little ones!
+J’adore J’ADORE these platforms.
+I continue to marvel at this absolutely one-of-a-kind foundation.
+And speaking of Marysia’s scallops, I had to order this $16 scallop trim sweater!
+OMG these invitations!
+Low key sophisticated tote bag for summer.
+Pretty neutral mini.
+These trousers are just fabulous.
+A great base layer.