Fingers ready, mind blank.
24 September, 2000

Dear Friend,

. . . This week, for the first time, I talked with a publisher about distributing these weekly essays through his on-line journal. As a result, it's Friday and I'm just now writing last Sunday's letter.
. . . You see, I scared myself. Writing these letters has been fun. But, the thought of doing it on a schedule sounds like work. That scares me. I don't want to be regimented. It's bad enough I have to get up every morning.
. . . So, as a sign of my independence, I've waited until today to write. Even so, I'm writing only because I know some of you (well, maybe one of you) wonder where your letter is. Well, here it is. I'm writing out of obligation. But it's not fun.
. . . My friend, Binkie, I'm sure, will tell me this is boyish behavior, tease me that I'm a rebel. Right. I think of it as progress. One step forward, one back, then another forward.
. . . What's the next step forward? Punctuality. Writing a letter every week. That takes determination or maybe something else. Is there something else? Is there something that has the same results as discipline but is freeing rather than restrictive?
. . . What might that be?
. . . I don't know. I was hoping you could tell me. Surely you do things every week or even every day, not out of determination or obligation but in some more beneficent, soul-sustaining manner.
. . . Mark Twain let his writing write itself. That's sort of what I've been doing. But some weeks, like this one, my letters don't write themselves.
. . . Twain would write as long as the characters and story line of his book just sort of popped into his head without him forcing the words to flow. He claimed that once he became a writer, he never again did any real work.
. . . If his book stopped writing itself -- or, rather, WHEN it stopped writing itself -- Twain would roll up the manuscript and stuff it in a pigeon hole. There it would sit, for years, until again he was inspired to write, when again the story came to him without compulsion.
. . . Twain tells about this in a letter of his own, which I've reprinted on this website. Click here to see it. Having done so, I can now claim to have published Mark Twain. I'm a big shot!
. . . If you've read Huckleberry Finn, you may have noticed that the book suddenly changes in mood and style when Jim and Huck's lazy float down the Mississippi River ends and Jim is locked up as a runaway slave. My guess is the book changes because the man who wrote the end of the book was years older than the man who wrote the middle.
. . . Of course, Twain was a newspaper man for a while who wrote weekly or even daily essays, some of which are actually humorous. Did they always write themselves? Twain tells us they did not. In fact, he warns that writing a weekly column guarantees empty prose. If he was a newspaper man once, he quit. Instead, he started writing short stories, writing novels, and making after-dinner speeches -- easy work -- in fact, not work at all -- or so he says.
. . . So why am I considering diligently writing weekly essays that arrive on time before my faithful readers' eyes? Someone talk me out of it! Or tell me how to do something on a regular basis without having to resort to discipline.
. . . (No doubt this abhorrence of discipline has to do with my growing up the son of a military officer. I'll let you certified psychologists and licensed psychoanalysts comment on that.)
. . . In the meantime, my next Sunday letter is due in two days. Some time in the next forty-eight hours I'll sit down at the computer and wait. With my fingers poised above the keyboard, I'll be willing to let my next letter write itself. If nothing happens, YOU may have to wait. Or, worse, I'll again force myself to write something and you will get a piece of prose as uninspired as this!

Go to Mark Twain's thoughts
He comments on his habits of writing.

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Sunday, September 17, 2000.

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Text and photos copyright 2000 Danny Nelson Schweers