Tuesday, 15 June 2010

the practice of writing; 20 lines a day

Harry Mathews - famously the only american member of the OuLiPo, the experimental french literary group, and friend of perhaps its most well known member Georges Perec - in his book '20 lines a day' set out to follow a rule Stendhal once set himself, to write ‘Twenty lines a day, genius or not’. it was an attempt to overcome ‘the anxiety of the blank page’; an integral if not crucial part of his writing practice, his way of warming up if you like, before going on to whatever his actual writing project may be.

i began this diary, this little journal, hidden away inconspicuously amongst mountains of other bloggers, in the same spirit (but minus the talent) - not as an attempt to perfect an idea or topic, but simply a place to practice getting things down on paper in the first instance. a method for overcoming the fear and loathing of that intimidating blank page. a place where i could just write something, anything, and see what might emerge and where it might take me.

3 years later and i still manage considerably less than 20 lines a day, so it is perhaps fitting to conclude the theme of these last few posts with this encouraging segment from Mathews' own preface, to bolster the spirits of even the most timid scribbler...

like many writers, i often find starting the working day a discouraging prospect, one that i spend much energy avoiding. four years ago i was reminded of an injunction Stendhal gave himself early in life: vingt lignes par jour, genie ou pas. stendhal was thinking about getting a book done. i deliberately mistook his words as a method for overcoming the anxiety of one blank page. even for a dubious, wary writer, 20 lines seemed a reassuringly obtainable objective, especially if they had no connection with a serious project like a novel or an essay. for the next year or so i began many writing days with a stint of at least 20 lines, written about whatever came into my head on a pad reserved for that purpose.

hopefully Mathews own 'dubious wary writer' might fanally put paid to the ogre of the unstoppable driven genius forever hovering at our shoulder....

No comments: