Writing on Writing

I have said it before, and I will say it again: I should have started writing this book years ago, because I have amassed far too much material. Had I written more about some of it earlier, I would not now be wanting to stuff all of it into every piece. So I was really, really ready to write, and I either did not realize it or I was too distracted by my other myriad and fragmenting duties.

Writing takes a lot of time — I have said this before, and I will say it again — and it requires recreation encircling it. One can attempt to deny this, and become frustrated and not know why, or one can accept it and plan for it.

That brings me to my point today: perhaps it is not that the students do not know how to write, or do not know how to manage time. Perhaps it is that they really do not have time to do the job in a complete way. Perhaps that is why so many of the papers I receive on time resemble rough drafts.

I think writing is a lot like tinkering and a lot like painting. My studio here in Brazil has a comfortable chair that fits the large table, an Internet connection, natural light, openable windows, enough shelves to keep all the books I need within well organized sight, and a good sea view — and nobody drops in to interrupt me. I love all of these things and evidence appears to indicate I need them.


Some people will say I am a great bourgeoise and clearly do not love my work enough, if I require so much to do it. I disagree. My evidence for this is that I have traveled over seven thousand kilometers and I am at a major tourist point, to which it will be both expensive and difficult to return, and that given decent working conditions I traveled to find I am choosing work.


28 thoughts on “Writing on Writing

  1. Surrounded by recreation is right on. The amount of brain energy required to produce writing with analytical bite surpasses that required by any of the other things I do. One needs time to relax so that one can return to the task at hand again and again and again, etc. That is why, to my mind, it is SO IMPORTANT to start.

    I hope that the ease of availability to yourself that you seem to have at the present time continues.

    1. Surrounded by recreation, I’m glad you confirm that.

      It strikes me that when I gave up recreation, in 1991, was when it started to be so hard for me to write. I gave up recreation because Reeducation thought I wasn’t in enough pain, was protecting myself from the pain I *had to be in* by having a balanced life, and the surest way to pain I could find was to cut out recreation.

      After that it was harder to work and I thought I had become lazy, so I did not restore recreation for a long time. I still have trouble with it, partly because of living in a situation where energy demanding “fun” is easy to come by but replenishing recreation is not.

      1. I have to make myself slow down sometimes because there will be diminishing returns. If I don’t build in other things, there will be trouble. I am getting better at doing this. One of the things I have been putting in the mix lately has been reading current theory which I enjoy as it expands my mind. It is far afield from Classics all the time (but valuable!) and it feels like stolen moments! So that is good. I also just read novels on occasion, just to get my head into another space.

  2. I have just cut elements out of my diet that I have recently found I am allergic to/intolerant of. The thing is that this intolerance kicked in about three years ago. This explains part of the pressure I have been under in the more recent years, and why increasing the stress levels of the poor and the oppressed does not help them to elevate their status (more likely, healthy problems will probably kick in).

    Good that you have found the means to work. Just because it is a luxury does not mean we should eschew the opportunity ascetically. Rather, luxuriate because such chances are so hard to come by.

  3. Gracias Mark, and I agree with all — what do you write (or write about)?

    Jennifer — Increasing stress levels, counterproductive, yes. I’m making 2010 a year of health, too!

    Ascetic. This isn’t really all that luxurious, it’s essentially a shack in a slum, and the water in my view of the bay is actually heavily polluted (although now the tide is out and they’re clamming, which gives me pause about eating clams). But it has this studio. People think I should be living elsewhere but *that* is what (for me) would be ascetic.

  4. I, too, am planning to “luxuriate” by sleeping out in the open, with horses, one night, in the middle of an African winter. Let us hope I do not get bitten to death (literally, because of the malaria aspect!) by mosquitos. I think there are certain experiences that feed the soul for years to come, although they do not speak so gently to the body.

  5. Only 1 night on that safari? I’m voting there will be fewer mosquitoes in winter, but I don’t know. I’d be tempted not to take antimalarials but to use a lot of insect repellent and a net. Your trip is going to be excellent.

  6. I write on gender and sexuality the Roman Empire of the fourth-century CE. There is great fragmentation and loss in the sources and also generic difference that makes both for frightening challenges AND for fascinating opportunities. When I am happy in my work I really think in terms of the latter. Often I close my eyes and plug my ears when I am thinking about what a next sentence has to say. The level of focus required is like no other I have ever done (though writing music has come close).

  7. Writing takes a lot of time — I have said this before, and I will say it again — and it requires recreation encircling it.

    So, wait, so, my need to go do something fun and not at all worklike after a few hours of writing isn’t just a lack of discipline? Is that what you are saying here? Ai!

    Not exactly related, but here is a very thoughtful blog post about the effect of technology on our lives which I thought you might like:


  8. Dear Human, that is precisely it. Purposefully taking time away to clear the mind briefly is not lack of discipline, it is the height of discipline.

  9. Recreation, height of discipline, YES.

    And yes, I like the incertus blog!

    And AHA, so Mark *does* believe in research, I knew it!

    That is going to be a great horse safari. How long total do you stay in Zim?

    Malaria. I have mosquito bites right now but am not in a malaria area — yet when you mentioned it I realized OH NO, I’m vaccinated against yellow fever (I don’t normally do this, but post Katrina Louisiana got me worried), but what about DENGUE? Now I have bug spray that is supposed to kill the dengue mosquito, but I have been too lazy to use it so far (and I am not sure what carcinogens are in it).

    UH-OH! Carnaval has been canceled in Itabuna, 400 km to the south, due to a dengue epidemic! And there are a total of 115,000 cases in this state, or were recently!

    1. I hope to stay in Zim for 8-9 weeks. It is better to stay there for a while, since I will not be able to afford to go again, after this time, for a very long time (no job on the horizon, etc.). So I will stay and try to set up Break Free Self Defence.

      One of the good things is that since I stopped eating potatoes and tomatoes a few days ago, my health has radically improved. I had no idea that I was reacting to these things — although I did know that something was wrong. I thought I had a weak digestion that was putting a strain on my system and making me react to pollen and other environmental allergens, when in fact it was an internal reaction all along. I am no longer waking up feeling nauseous, each day, with a belly full of air and puffed and watering eyes. This is a huge relief.

      I am sure, now, that I can battle any mosquito and come out on top, smash its tiny, hairy nose into the concrete, and cheer! I will eliminate every avenging mosquito with all my might. Hallellujah!

      1. The Zim trip will be great. You need that time — it takes 2-3 weeks just to get in a position to get things rolling.

        Potatoes and tomatoes are bad for me, too. Also eggplant and cucumbers, and I suspect oranges (but other citrus are fine). It’s too bad since I like all these things, but I notice a distinct difference if I avoid them!

  10. I am Kiwi-Mark by the way…I am on the road and now I am Mark…why why why? Who knows. I say this cuz I recall that there been another Mark around here who has been a bit of a bore, I think?

  11. Oh, this is a different Mark? Good, I vote you keep him, PZ – he’s polite and interesting.

  12. Mark my words, there will be hell to pay.

    Here is something astute from Stephen:

    ” I am not leaving the human condition to malevolent and benevolent forces which preordain life’s highs and lows. On the contrary, I observe that life is more politically and economically determined by power and how it is exercised. The poor can still come up with a wish list but it is a mere exercise in futility for it must be within the confines of what BIG BROTHER parsimoniously consents to. It is very insane indeed, for the poor it must be a conscious revisit to the injustices of his condition every New Year when he puts together that wish list. The traveller’s ROAD will not and has never been of his own making. He is not responsible for the crevices and potholes he must negotiate to his destinations. Unfortunately those whose responsibility it should be, feel that after all they seldom use ROADS, they fly so they are not morally bound to make the roads’ condition traveller friendly. Hahaha. “

  13. I may have to turn this into a New Year’s post. In the New Year I will keep it in mind and I will deepen meditation and shamanism more than I deconstruct Reeducation.

  14. Re Mark’s comment, way above, yes, recreational and out of field reading — this is a good thing.

    Me, though, I crave sporty things in nature in a temperate climate, and near the sea. I am going to have to start taking this craving seriously, I see — stop trying to “adjust” out of it.

    1. Just do what you want to do, and that way you will be doing what you are supposed to do. I think the whole other approach — don’t do what you want to do because you will just descend into debauchery and ruin your life — is based on a Christian understanding of human nature that might apply to some people, but not everybody.

      If I hadn’t slowed down over this end of year season, I would never have taken the trouble to discover my allergies, which were weighing on my like an Alp.

      One returns to correct prioritising only when one gives oneself the time and space to find one’s own rhythms — otherwise one is perpetually on the back foot (responding to situations but never instigating them in the way one wants to).

      If one simply has to do something, because a drive grows within one that urges it, then do it no matter what the threats and dangers seem to be.

      It is much more dangerous by far to ignore one’s destiny!

  15. This hits it on the head, it’s another of those Christian things. People about to fall into complete debauchery and having to hold to discipline.

    Speaking of which — I want to sleep but they have just cranked up the music outside and started barbecuing. It’s 1:30 AM. I’d find it funny and will in retrospect, probably, but I am bone tired — .

    Bright side. At least it is pleasant music. And may stay pleasant. I might be forced to stay up no matter what. I wonder — make a caipirinha again.

    OMG. They are playing classic Brazilian pop of the hip kind, I didn’t know non academics or non middle class people listened to this.

  16. Ha! It got worse, but I was too exhausted not to lie down. Sometime after dawn (4:30) it quieted down — now (9:50) there’s the morning shouting. The view from here is lovely but I really understand why people who live in slums want to get out.

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