I have loved Mary Flannery O’Connor from afar since I can remember. I don’t recall the first time I heard that unforgettable name, or even the first time I actually read one of her beautiful, shocking stories.
As a young girl, all I cared about was that she was Irish, Catholic, Southern and a writer. All things I was, or wanted to be (the writer thing has taken some work). And so I read “Everything that Rises Must Converge” and decided I too would write short stories. The format seemed good for me–most importantly the short part. I could flit between stories without having to commit to one storyline or character. I could finish in a few days and–presto–I would be a writer! It would be so easy!
Well, it wasn’t. Fast forward to my grown up self and I see how naive I was. Writing is a painful, difficult thing. I recently finished “The Habit of Being” a wonderful collection of Flannery’s letters spanning almost 20 years. It is part spiritual direction, part advanced writing course and completely Flannery. There were times I felt like she was actually talking to me–shooting one of her humor-coated barbs right at my insecurity and procrastination. A case in point was her advice to a friend about writing:
“You ought to set aside three hours every morning in which you write or do nothing else; no reading, no talking, no cooking, no nothing, but you sit there. If you write all right and if you don’t all right, but you do not read; whether you start something different every day and finish nothing makes no difference; you sit there. It’s the only way, I’m telling you. If inspiration comes you are there to receive it, you are not reading.”
Ahh, Flannery, I am humbled to study at your feet.