Day after day, for almost five decades, I have been sitting down at my desk to write. On some mornings, I am undecided about my work and how it will go; I fall into a kind work of melodramatic gloom. On other mornings it is easier; but easy or not, I write.
I write today with the same determination that I did 40, even 50 years ago. This determination is more thoughtful now than passionate - but then I am no longer a young man. On Feb. 27, I'll be 74 years old.
I sit at my desk.
An hour passes. I have written a couple of letters.
I think of John Chamberlain's review of Garson Kanin's book, "It Takes a Long Time To Be Young." I have just read it in the new daily, The Trib. I think about the article I wrote on the aging process 10 years ago - "Old Age Can be Healthy."
I think of time offen but I do not think often of age. Age is just one way to measure time. When I write, I feel neither young or old. In fact, I feel little different than I did when I was working on the first drafts of the "Studs Lonigan" novels almost 50 years ago. I am fully absorbed in my work and in my characters.
On the floor in the living room are proofs of my 52d book, "The Death of Nora Ryan." Doubleday plans to publish it this spring; they have asked that the proofs be returned next week. Last night, I had the first few galley pages read to me. I didn't like some of the sentences; I dictated some corrections. My handwriting is so difficult to read that it is more practical to have someone else write in the changes - cuts and/or additions. This method takes longer but by having the work read to me, I sense it better. A couple of the sentences I heard last night jarred me. They were awful. How could I have written them? But then there was a telephone conversation scene I liked very much. It was a conversation between the writer Eddie Ryan and his first publisher. It brought back memories of me of my relationship with my first publisher.
Publishing. Writing. Writing is more than fun. For me, writing is the means of self-fulfilment. So long as I am able to write, I shall envy no man. A more complicated part of a writer's life today is being published. It was more simple when I began. A writer wrote and a publisher published. There weren't as many agents and lawyers and discussions about first rights, paperback rights, film rights, etc. And a publisher wouldn't have thought about calling in salesmen to ask them what the "industry" reaction to a title would be. But even then, friendship between authors and publishers were uneasy at best. The artist and editor hear the sounds of distinctly different drummers.
It's snowing outside. The woman across the street has opened her window and is showing her young cat the snow. She often spends time looking out her window. She strikes me as a lonely woman. What were the exact words that Nietzsche wrote about only an Englishman expects happiness? I'll have to go to the other room and look it up.
No, I promised to send this article off today. I don't have the time to stop. Time. As a thinker, I am much concerned with time. My writing has much to do with time. Since October 1958 I have been writing every single day to complete a massive work of fiction which I am calling "A Universe of Time." No, this is not correct. There was a period of about six months when I didn't write - when I faced the only writing block of my life.
The questions and the problems of the use of time are simple for a writer.
I must conquer and control time and use it here at my desk. I must manage my own time. Every writer faces this problem. There can be no excuse for wasting time. As a young man, I began to develop habits of work. I knew that to complete what I hoped to write, I would have to set a goal. I did - 1,000 handwritten words or five typed pages a day. I have managed to maintain this average even while I've taken on brief teaching assignments, gone on lecture tours, or enjoyed the baseball season. A writer must be as self-disciplined as a staff sergeant. Or a general.
General. I once wrote an essay, a "Historical Image of Napoleon Bonaparte." I concluded by drawing parallels between him and Alexander Hamilton - their respective ideas and visions for the future of the European continent and the North American continent. People who try to draw analogies between Bonaparte and Hitler are off the beam. Bonaparte was a genius far beyond Hilter's capacity. Or Stalin's.That was a brilliant article that Boris Souvarine has written in Dissent on Solzhenitsyn's book, "Lenin in Geneva." I wonder if Sidney Hook read it. Should I send Sid-machine but it isn't working. I have ney a copy? I own my own copying almost a genius for getting it out of order. I'm glad Boris is writing again. I missed seeing him in Paris this year. He was sick while I was there.
I cannot let my thoughts wander. I must will my mind to the work on my desk. I'm thirsty. I'll get up for a glass of water. As soon as I've had that, I'll be ready to work.
Here I sit. The lady across the street is in the window again. I'll draw the Venetian blinds. Now. Back to the notebook on my desk.
My day has begun.
The telephone rings. I reach for it - eagerly. It is a friend. She's just read my 51st book, "Olive and Mary Anne & 5 Tales." She likes it. This is my reward, the greatest reward that a writer can gain - to reach others, to stir their minds, infect their feelings, and to remind them of our common humanity with its tragedies, its pathos, its grandeur and wonder.
I shall go on, in the same way, for years.I hope.
James T. Farrell's 51st book, "Olive and Mary Ann & 5 Tales"; and his 52nd book, "The Death of Nora Ryan," have just been released.