Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sacrifice and a Habit of Art

Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay.”
~Flannery O’ Connor

We’ve discussed our writing habits a few times here, but reading Flannery again, I’ve started to think less about writing habits; the times, places, and tools I use to encourage my writing, and more about the building of a Habit. It’s clear in her letters that O’ Connor shaped her life in order to pursue artistic excellence. In pursuit of excellence, she had few of my distractions, and many of her own. She never married, and her mother did a good deal of the farm work, with the help of hired hands. She had fantastic correspondants in Robert Fitzgerald, Robert Lowell, and .. It is my firm belief that quality correspondance with other artists is an amazing source of inspiration and encouragement (it’s one of the reasons I am so grateful for this discussion). I’ve been looking around at my little homestead with uncertainty recently. How do I form a habit of Art? The frustrating reality is that I form it as everyone else must, with determination - pure force of will. None of us has it easy. Flannery O’ Connor wasn’t married nor keeping her own house, but she was dying of lupus, a trial I can’t imagine. Unlike many writers, I am under no pressure to work for pay. Apart from the demands that three gardens, two pigs, eight chickens, a dog, husband, and daughter can put on me, my time is my own, and unlike corporations, my demanding ones have to sleep at some point. My first reaction when the whole house is asleep is to rest myself, but here is my opportunity. And this is where determination would come it. I have to sacrifice something to form any good habit. There are some things I refuse to sacrifice, sleep isn’t one of them. So here I am, writing on a dark Wednesday afternoon, while Petka - who has kept me up all night with her restless dreaming and sad little cries - rests heavy in her cradle. My bed looks delicious. But I have a whole pot of coffee beside me, so I’m snatching at the little time I have.

People without hope not only don't write novels, but what is more to the point, they don't read them.”

~Flannery O’ Connor

Forming a habit of art is an act of discipline, and an act of hope. I am working through my free hours in the hope that some thing I produce will have value. Not merely to me, but to someone reading it. Not that it will be loved and acclaimed, but that it will do good. It is a hope that is encouraged through correspondance, through dicipline, and through repetition. And in my experience, discipline and repetition are the most difficult. I don’t like disciplining myself. I like indulgence. It’s why I moved to the woods - to live a life of comfort and self-direction. Before I married, I wrote when I felt like writing - late at night, or all week. But a house covered with books and papers and empty coffee mugs is no way to greet a tired husband at the end of the day, and so I work at a desk after sweeping and before making tea, while Yarrow naps or tosses herbs on the floor, and again late at night, or in the early summer light. I’m surprised to find I write more now. I'm hoping that good habits are as hard to break as bad ones. 


  1. You remind me of how much I REALLY NEED to develop a writing habit: any kind of writing habit at this point. I don't discipline myself nearly enough when it comes to...well, anything really, but writing in particular. And I don't have the excuse of a garden, dog, daughter, or husband (wife) to distract me!

    By the way, in case you're wondering where Day 3 went, I had a guest over who took up most of my evening, so that's going to have to wait until tomorrow.

  2. This is wonderful, Masha, and I love the Flannery O'Connor quotes. I can sympathize with so much about this post.

    Next week is the Fourth of July and all three of my usual potential blog-prepping days are entirely taken up with family events and a friend's wedding. Want to make a holiday of it? I can return with a response to this piece a week from Monday.

  3. BT~
    Self-discipline is the hardest! But you have all that Karate training to pull from :) I hope it's going well with the journal, that might help. But guests are the best excuse to skip habits. :)

    I love Holidays! Let's do it. I sympathized with Flannery so much in all this, it made me really realize that even if someone seems to have the ideal writing life, it still has it's challenges and it still requires lots of discipline.

    I realized the other day that my life can look like an artistic ideal as well. Woodland-retreat and all, it just rarely looks that way to me, because I'm living it, and I know Luba's going to start barking any moment. :) I' looking forward to your response. Have a great 4th!