I’ve gotten to the part in Boswell’s Life of Johnson where Johnson is writing twice-weekly essays published as The Rambler. This is what Boswell says about it:
The first paper of the Rambler was published on Tuesday, the 20th of March, 1749-50; and its author was enabled to continue it, without interruption, every Tuesday and Saturday, till Saturday the 17th of march, 1752, on which day it closed. This is a strong confirmation of the truth of a remark of his, which I have had occasion to quote elsewhere, that “a man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it;” for, notwithstanding his constitutional indolence, his depression of spirits, and his labour in carrying on his Dictionary, he answered the stated calls of the press twice a week from the stores of his mind, during all that time…
I like the idea that you can write at any time, if only you really set your mind to it. Although I’ve never done much creative writing (defined narrowly as fiction or drama or poetry) and don’t know if I’d get writer’s block trying to do it, I’ve done a good bit of other kinds of writing — letter writing, course-paper writing, dissertation writing, blog writing, email writing, administrative report writing — and tend to agree with Johnson that the words will come if I just “set myself doggedly to it.” I’m not a writer’s block sufferer. In fact, for me, there’s nothing so pleasurable about writing as sitting down with pen and paper or a computer having little idea of what I will write and watching ideas come to me as I start to work. Which is not to say that Johnson’s feat of writing essays twice weekly for so long isn’t remarkable, but that I can see why he would want to do it and why, with that attitude, he’d do a good job of it. Well, being a genius had something to do with it too, of course.
The Boswell passage makes me think that blogging is a little like writing periodical essays — perhaps not always with Johnson’s brilliance (in my case, never with Johnson’s brilliance): it’s about producing a public piece of writing on a regular or semi-regular schedule, which means, if you do follow a schedule, even a loose one, you are privileging regularity over inspiration. One of the reasons I’m attracted to blogging and why I’ve come to love it so much is the regular productivity it requires, inspiration or no.
And, as a blog-reader, there’s nothing I love more than a regular feature on someone’s blog, poetry Friday, say, or Stefanie’s Saturday Emerson post, or Danielle’s daily book chat. There’s something very reassuring about knowing writers are out there who will produce words regularly. I would have eaten up Johnson’s twice-weekly essays if I’d lived then.
However, this passage about Johnson’s writing habits does not strike a chord with me:
Posterity will be astonished when they are told, upon the authority of Johnson himself, that many of these discourses, which we should suppose had been laboured with all the slow attention of literary leisure, were written in haste as the moment pressed, without even being read over by him before they were printed. It can be accounted for only in this way; that by reading and meditation and a very close inspection of life, he had accumulated a great fund of miscellaneous knowledge, which, by a peculiar promptitude of mind, was ever ready at his call, and which he had constantly accustomed himself to clothe in the most apt and energetic expression.
Oh, for some of that “promptitude of mind”!