Writing Exercise

Yesterday, I read the Paris Review interview with the French writer Emmanuel Carrère, whose books often combine journalistic reporting with first-person confession. In the interview, Carrère describes a writing exercise he practices, learned from the German Romantic Ludwig Börne:

For three successive days, force yourself to write, without denaturalizing or hypocrisy, everything that crosses your mind. Write what you think of yourself, your wives, Goethe, the Turkish war, the Last Judgment, your superiors, and you will be stupefied to see how many new thoughts have poured forth. That is what constitutes the art of becoming an original writer in three days.

Carrère finds this to be excellent advice and practices it when he is not working on anything. I felt inspired and started it yesterday myself. Even though I often journal, the session yesterday felt different than it typically does. It was as if Carrère had given me permission to be entirely present with my emotions and opinions, and my assurance with the pen grew and grew the more I wrote.

In the end, after reaching clarity, I felt a need to start a new piece of fiction but was dry for ideas. So I did what I sometimes do: I read poetry by writers I admire until one of their images inflated into a whole scene in my mind. The poem that struck me was “Autumn Sky” by Charles Simic, particularly the following stanza:

The stars know everything,
So we try to read their minds.
As distant as they are,
We choose to whisper in their presence.

The scene it generated was one where two adolescents—country children who have grown up in neighboring houses—lie in a field and look to the stars. Their unusual dialogue moves the piece into a speculative realm, a genre I’ve been drawn to lately. I’m excited to be revising and polishing this piece now.

Reading Simic

I took the morning to read and think and sit on the patio of a corner café, and I started Charles Simic’s essay collection, The Life of Images.  I’ve always found Simic to be a comforting, solid thinker who takes his time representing emotion. I’ve been having trouble slowing down in my own writing lately. I’ve been taking shortcuts. Reading loose prose has made me slacken. When emotion arises as I write, I want to once again push myself to feel out its spaces and allow images to concretize before I rush on to the next line. Simic, of course, does this impressively in this collection. Here’s an excerpt on solitude and philosophy.

Wallace Stevens has several beautiful poems about solitary readers. “The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm” is one. It speaks of a “truth in a calm world.” It happens! The world and the mind growing so calm that truth becomes visible.

It must be late at night “when shines the light that lets be the things that are”—the light of insomnia. The solitude of the reader of philosophy and the solitude of the philosopher drawing together. The impression that one is thinking and anticipating another man’s subtlest turns of thought and beginning to truly understand.

Understanding depends on the relationship of what we are to what we have been: the being of the moment. Consciousness stirring up our conscience, our history. Consciousness as the light of clarity and history as the dark night of the soul.