“Twenty lines a day, genius or not.”

Who’s this guy? What? You don’t know? It’s Stendhal! Who decided at one time or another that he would write “twenty lines a day, genius or not.” If that isn’t genius, I don’t know what is.

Some time later, Dalkey Archive author Harry Mathews followed in Stendhal’s footsteps and also decided that he would write “twenty lines a day, genius or not.” And he got a book out of it.

From his Preface:

“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 (Twenty lines a day, genius or not). Stendhal was thinking about getting a book done. I deliberately mistook his words as a method for overcoming the anxiety of the blank page. Even for a dubious, wary writer, twenty 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 twenty lines, written about whatever came into my head on a pad reserved for that purpose.

“As a background to these intermittent annotations of my life, I should mention that at the time I wrote them I was established in Lans-en-Vercors, a French mountain village half an hour outside Grenoble; that I had been living there since 1976 with the writer Marie Chaix and her two daughters, Emilie and Leonore; that I spent considerable time in or near New York, visiting my mother and teaching at Columbia College; that I made frequent short trips to Paris. In addition to family life, two concerns preoccupied me: the completion of my fourth novel, Cigarettes, begun in 1978, and the death in 1982 of my closest friend, the French novelist Georges Perec.”

So, for the month of November, I invite you to join me in the goal of writing at least “twenty lines a day, genius or not.” Perhaps even think about what two concerns are preoccupying you now (besides your family life), and use the month to reflect and write on those.

I was even thinking it could become a regular thing, every November. I was also thinking, Hey, let’s get really goofy about it and see how many people will sign on to write at the same time every day! I know: that’s goofy. Still, if you like, join me and Lily as we write every morning at 8 a.m. or join me and Rose every evening at midnight. It’ll be a spiritual meeting of the minds. I’ll even say a little prayer for you before we begin.

 

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