On Keeping a Writing Habit

Morgan Library, NYC, 2021

Lately I have been thinking of lists. It is the tendency of the the ambitious and the put-upon to create lists of things of what is to be done, what can be put off, what must do immediately. Lists for shopping, for cleaning, for tasks at hand. Fix the ceiling, buy electric bulbs, call the vet. Essayists like Sei Shonagon and Montaigne used lists as well, as ways to order thoughts under a heading. Montaigne wrote under headings of friendship, sleep, friendship, books to attempt to organize his thoughts on a variety of subjects. Sei Shonagon in 990 Japan did the same in her Pillow Book, and her titles are captivating: Hateful things, Adorable Things, Things When I Make Myself Imagine. Using lists of subjects is a good way to create a writing practice. Each day, you can begin an exercise starting with the sentence, “Today, I see…” and record what you see. If it is the same view, what you will see will change with the season, and your mood. One day, you notice the sky, one day the trees. Soon, you will have 365 Observations.

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