Preparing to Write (with an Assist from Flaubert)

I’m a writer who runs. I run because it calms me. It creates a quiet, peaceful place from which I can think more clearly, feel more deeply, write with more energy. “Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois,” Flaubert said, “so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

To write, I must feel in harmony with the world around me. I know this isn’t necessarily true for every writer; we each have our own process that works for us. The important thing is knowing what’s true for you. Where do you have to be inside yourself for your best writing to take place? What are the things you do that help you create what really matters to you? What are the things like running that are outside the writing process but absolutely necessary to it? What do you do before you write that allows you to more fully engage with the work?

Since I’ve evoked Flaubert, I might as well share with you some of the other things he said that have made a difference to me as a writer:

1.  What is beautiful is moral, that is all there is to it.

2.  One must not always think that feeling is everything. Art is nothing without form.

3.  An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible        nowhere.

  1. Everything one invents is true, you may be perfectly sure of that. Poetry is as precise as geometry.

5.  Do not read as children do to enjoy themselves, or, as the ambitious do to educate                 themselves. No, read to live.

6.  Our ignorance of history causes us to slander our own times.

7.  The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.

8.  Writing is a dog’s life, but the only life worth living.

9.  Success is a consequence and must not be a goal.

10. Anything becomes interesting if you look at it long enough.

Read to live, Flaubert said. To that I’ll add: write to live; live to write. How can what we do on the page and off ever be separated?



  1. Dawn Boyer on February 2, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    Thanks for this, Lee. Lately, I’ve been paying conscious attention to the interior space I need in order to write. I find that a five-minute meditation, where I set my intentions and follow my breath, is a good way to start. Exercise also plays an important role. I don’t run (knees will no longer allow, sadly), but I do walk and use the elliptical at the gym, and both help free the noise and clutter in my brain so I can find the deeper, tender-yet-incredibly-strong quiet place inside myself. (I encourage my students to exercise if they want to improve their writing as well.) Before I know it, a story or chapter begins to play out with insights I’d never have thought of or felt otherwise, and I am smack in the middle of the dream. If I listen to audiobooks such as _Bird by Bird_ or a great collection of short stories or a novel by a writer I deeply admire, it helps even more. I find that the rhythm of the exercise and the rhythm of another writer’s cadence play a vital role. Something about the beat both wakes my brain up and lulls it into the perfect space between reality and imagination. Hard to describe, but it’s a wonderful place to access. Thanks for getting me to think about this more deeply.

  2. Lee Martin on February 3, 2015 at 11:29 am

    Thanks for sharing, Dawn. Whatever helps us go to that place from which we most deeply engage with the world and the senses.

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