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Three years of Subtle Maneuvers
Some thoughts on this newsletter’s leather anniversary
Writers are experts in second-guessing themselves—or at least I am. But one writing decision that I feel zero doubt or regret about was launching this newsletter in late February 2020, three years ago this week.What a lovely, flexible vehicle it has turned out to be! Though I initially envisioned the newsletter as a loose, serialized sequel to my Daily Rituals books, it has evolved into something much looser indeed: a perfect excuse for exploring whatever’s nagging at me in the moment, though still—usually—filtered through the lens of a notable individual’s creative process.
And what a perfect complement to writing a book it’s been! I almost feel like the more difficulty I ran into with the book, the better the newsletter got—because I was so hungry for strategies to borrow or just simple reassurance that all my flailing about was somehow productive, even if it didn’t feel like it. (Granted, sometimes writing the newsletter was also a way of avoiding working on the book.) Some of my favorite issues came out of my worst blocks, like the one on Slavoj Žižek’s secret to writing or the entire #Blocktober series, which helped me better understand my own unhealthy patterns around writing.
Of course, none of this would have been nearly as compelling without all of you readers who have taken the time to open these dispatches, email me, leave comments, write in to the advice column, share the newsletter with others—even consent to a recurring charge to your credit card. I have never before written for such an engaged and present audience, and it’s been kind of a revelation. I don’t want to disappoint you! That has proved an unbeatable motivator, and a fun challenge. (And a generative one, too. Several times I have gotten ideas for future issues from the back-and-forth in the comments section.) I have always been suspicious of people who say they “enjoy” writing . . . but I enjoy writing this newsletter?
So—thank you all for facilitating that novel experience. Genuinely, I’m grateful to be allowed into your inboxes every other Monday, and looking forward to working through more crises of confidence with you soon enough: I’m expecting edits on my book draft by the end the month!
SCRATCHES, SCRAPS, FIBRILS
Has anyone here read the work of Michel Leiris? Someone I follow on Twitter shared a few paragraphs from the French writer’s four-volume autobiography (the first three volumes have been translated by Lydia Davis) and I was immediately hooked, though perhaps only because the excerpt addressed a subject very much on my mind lately— how one’s book-writing dreams compare to the reality of having written a book:
The accumulation of pages, which is today nothing more than the instrument of a disillusionment, had as its avowed aim to make us more vigorously alive (as though such an architecture, for which we had been both laborer and material, should, symmetrically, help in our own reconstruction); but now that this book has appeared, one sees that whether it is good or bad, and even if it should mark a stage in our progress toward a little more light, the only sure thing is that it does not exist or—if we make our evaluation without any romantic exaggeration—that its only existence is that of a book that has come to join thousands of other books, probably better than some of them but a “book” nevertheless and not the quasi-stellar projection of ourselves by which we might have believed that our fate would be—as though magically—transformed.
A quasi-stellar projection of ourselves! Even if that is precisely what one’s writing fails to achieve, according to Leiris, I think the phrase itself captures what makes writing (and other creative pursuits) at once so fraught and so irresistible.
Thanks for reading! This newsletter comes out every other Monday—and you can help keep it coming by becoming a paid subscriber, buying one of my Daily Rituals books, forwarding the newsletter to a friend, or even just clicking the “like” button below.
Did you know that three years is traditionally the leather anniversary? How evocative! I only wish this issue had been a little kinkier somehow—maybe next time.