Monday, July 25, 2011

A Writer's Diary

I don't remember where I purchased Woolf's A Writer's Diary.  It feels as though I've had it from the beginning, when I first began writing as an adult.  It's dogeared, bits are underlined.  The spine is worn, but it's held - and shows no sign of breaking apart.  I've come across lists lately that are composed of indispensable books for writers.  Annie Dillard's wonderful book, The Writing Life and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird are usually on these lists.  For me, Woolf's diary is indispensable.  She talks about the shape of her works, how "doubts creep in."  She says, "I want to write nothing in this book that I don't enjoy writing.  Yet writing is always difficult." She says, "And as usual I am bored by narrative."  Books become an "angular shape in my mind."  She describes her processes, she describes them as they themselves are shaped.  Every book has new requirements.  In short, the more I read the diary, returning to it over time, the more grateful I am for it.

Well, grateful for all of Woolf's works.  From her essay, "Street Haunting: A London Adventure,"

"No one perhaps has ever felt passionately towards a lead pencil.  But there are circumstances in which it can become supremely desirable to possess one; moments when we are set upon having an object, an excuse for walking half across London between tea and dinner."

The pencil as pretext.  Well, that essay is in The Crowded Dance of Modern Life if you haven't read it.

To return to the diary though.  If I'm in need of a little courage, there's nothing better than to open to the page where I have underlined the words: Doubts creep in.  Or,

"And this shall be written for my own pleasure.  But that phrase inhibits me; for if one writes only for one's own pleasure, I don't know what it is that happens. I suppose the convention of writing is destroyed: therefore one does not write at all."  

The reminder that one must write for one's own pleasure, though not solely for pleasure. 

What I'm most drawn to are her descriptions of work.  Writing Mrs. Dalloway, she talks about managing 50 words a morning.  And the edits and rewriting.  Of course there are interruptions, for interruptions there will always be. And there are highs and lows.  Despair, followed by satisfaction, followed by despair at "the badness of the book."  

Well, all this to say, really, how completely indispensable this book has been to me.

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