inspiration, stray thoughts, writing
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The capacity to work feeds on itself


My children were at that time six, three and one. Their care came first. Doctors’ appointments, reading to them, rocking the baby to sleep, car pools — all that had to be done, and done as well as I could, before I could turn to myself. Confronted by this situation, I made two major decisions.

The first was to invest in myself, as needed, the money I had inherited from my family. I simply poured my capital into my work […]

The second major decision was to increase my energy output and use it as wisely and as fully as I could. Again fortunately, during the years from 1948 to 1961 I had formed the habit of working in my studio almost every single day. Rain or shine, eager or dragging my feet, I just plain forced myself to work. This habitual discipline came up under me to support my revved-up schedule. I simply got up early every morning and worked straight through the day in one way or another, either in my household or in my studio. Before I went to sleep, I loosely organized the following day’s schedule — loosely because there were, of course, always unexpected events. But I tried to hold course in accordance with my values: first — husband, children, household; second — my work. The periods of time left over from my practical responsibilities were spent in the studio. If there were fifteen minutes between shopping and carpool, I used them. If I had an hour, or two hours, I rejoiced, but didn’t waste time feeling happy, just worked.

from ‘Daybook’ by Anne Truitt

There is so much to take from this. Discipline and obsession, yes. A commitment to using every possible moment. But also belief, a steely core of belief that allowed Anne Truitt to make the decision to invest in herself in this way (she buys both materials for her sculptures and domestic help: ‘a very faithful live-in maid who was my friend as well and shared household responsibilities with me’). I know that I would hesitate to invest in myself in the same way, even as I hesitate to invest in myself in many smaller ways. When I first read these words, in the spring, my own children were six, four and one, and her decisions and the commitment they represent echoed through my thoughts for weeks. Truitt writes, ‘Why am I so obsessed? I do not know. One element is clear, however, and that is that the capacity to work feeds on itself and has its own course of development.’

So, let that be my mantra for autumn, ‘the capacity to work feeds on itself’.


Rather pathetically after Anne Truitt, here are my seven rituals for autumn. I remember that I did this once before. Some of these things I already do, some I’m adding to the mix.

1. ‘Something small‘: 15 minutes of free-writing/focused free-writing // 2. 500 words: new words, typed // 3. Read a poem. I’m going to work my way through Singing School & try to read each day’s poem three times (morning, evening & once in between) // 4. Add to my word hoard. Looking up the roots of words. Finding out the names of things. Gathering, as Priscilla Long puts it, the ‘good words, the juicy words, the hot words’ // 5. Twenty minutes of non-fiction reading // 6. Twenty minutes of pleasure reading (this shouldn’t be hard!) // 7. Exercise: yoga/walk/exercise DVD.


    • Thanks Denise. I’m finding the rituals helpful so far: like having a compass to guide me when I’m feeling overwhelmed with possible things to do (as I so often am!).

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  2. I’m curious about your writing rituals and the differentiation you make between free write and the 500-word goal. Is one designed to get the creative juices flowing and the other a work in progress? Do they feed into each other? As I flounder about trying to kickstart a stalled practice, I’d love to hear what works for you.

    • Ha — yes, the 500 words is meant to be a WIP. But. A few weeks in, and the two things that get bumped most frequently are exercise & the 500 words. I’m pretty happy with the way my 15 minute free-write has gone this year — it’s a fixed point in my day & it feels good to at least get something written. Sometimes it’s a kind of ‘here & now’ exercise about my surroundings, sometimes notes for stories, essays or blog posts, sometimes notes on what I’m reading, or (and this happens pretty often) notes about my kids or my day or whatever’s on my mind. The idea was (is!) that typing some of the more promising starts up & working on them would lead to me actually finishing something. My plan for this week is to prioritise the 500 words (though I keep wondering if a set time might work better for me — starting small! — it works so well for the free-write because once I get started I often get caught up in writing & carry on after my 15 minutes).

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