Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

with our lacks…—we do what we can—we give what we have.” Henry James, “The Middle Years

A writer works with what she lacks as well as what she has. (Watch a dancer adapt a movement to the constraints—the particular length and flexibility—of their limbs. Listen to an actor or singer shift a line’s rhythm to fit their range and timbre.) Assess your lacks to see what use they might be put to. Develop other sources of plenty.

Ask: What do I want desperately to write and how shall I write it? What am I trying not to write? When do my fluencies become clever distractions from what needs writing? How often have I watched with acute irritation a performer’s distractions, hissing silently, “Why don’t you stop making that step, that melody easier than it is? Why don’t you find another way, another technique to get at it? Take the risk that it won’t have the same affect you so admire and covet in some other artist. (That supple arabesque, that quietly sustained high note.) All right. You can’t get that longed-for effect by the same means. Have at it in another way! Can an unexpected tension in the line, a surreptitious harshness in that note make it work?”

Margo Jefferson, Constructing a Nervous System: A Memoir (Pantheon, April 12, 2022)


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