“A Humour for Writing”

Jane Austen humour“I am not at all in a humour for writing; I must write on till I am,” wrote Jane Austen in a letter from Godmersham Park to her sister Cassandra on October 26, 1813. Is there any writer among us who has not felt that way at times? For whatever reason — and there are many good ones — writing is the last thing you feel like doing some days.

Maybe it is a grey day, and the clouds seem to have drifted inside, obscuring your flow of thought. Or maybe the sun is streaming through the windows, tempting you to forsake your writing for a long walk. Perhaps the topic has been assigned to you by someone else, and you’re “not feeling it.” Are other people in the room, asking for your input or making just enough noise that you can’t concentrate?

While any number of outside distractions might have contributed to Miss Austen’s disinclination for writing, I take heart from her resolution: “I must write on till I am.” Although Miss Austen initially wrote for her own amusement and to entertain her family and friends, two of her novels — Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813) — had been published by the time she wrote this letter. The modest financial success of these books was probably an incentive for Austen’s pushing herself to write on, despite her mood. With another novel drafted (Lady Susan) and two more in the works, she surely knew that the words would come, sooner or later. Rather than waiting for a moment of inspiration, she presumably picked up her quill and wrote.

How thankful I am that Miss Austen pushed herself to write, regardless of her “humour”! Five of Miss Austen’s completed novels are among the books I have re-read most often. Which gem might we lack today, had she allowed an uncongenial humour to defeat her? Mansfield Park? Emma? Persuasion —  the last novel she finished and possibly my favorite?

Her implicit advice — write yourself into a frame of mind for writing — is worth remembering. Sooner or later, every writer has one of those days. I have found that, once I get some momentum going, the words spill onto the page, almost of their own volition. Do I have to cut more words from the writing than I do on days when I’m pulling out the words rather than the words pushing me along? Undoubtedly. But an imperfect draft is better than no draft at all.


writers-quote-wednesday (2)Note: In the context of Austen’s letter, she was almost certainly referring to letter writing rather than to novel writing when she made this statement. Because I have personal experience with writing as a means of getting past a block, it seems legitimate to apply Austen’s quotation to all writing.

Many thanks to Colleen at Silver Threading for hosting the Writer’s Quote Wednesday event. In deference to Miss Austen’s nationality, I have used the British spelling of “humour” in this post. Text and photos copyrighted © 2014 by Sandra Fleming.

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