In the writing good things come
SAMUEL JOHNSON once said that a man can write anywhere or anytime ``if he will set himself doggedly to it.'' In addition to determination, I would include three other prerequisites for writing: a degree of leisure time - what Boswell calls ``ease and elbowroom'' for the mind; catching hold of an idea, or at least the glimmer of an idea for a subject (plunge ahead, urges Joyce, for ``In the writing the good things will come''); and having an implement with which to perform the physical act of writing.
Concerning the last, I use a fountain pen. I dislike the clatter of a typewriter, and word processing equipment is beyond my technical competence. To apply pen directly to paper makes me feel part of a centuries-old literary tradition.
Needing only a pen and legal-size yellow pad - we lawyers never use anything else - enables me to write anywhere. First drafts I generally do at home on a table that serves the dual purpose of eating and writing, often with an opera playing in the background to provide inspiration. (At this very moment, it is the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast of Donizetti's ``L'Elisir d'Amore.'')
Believe it or not, I find the New York City subway a good place to revise and edit copy. The smooth movement of subways, unlike buses traveling along pothole-filled city streets, induces deep concentration. I am able to shut out the noise and chatter around me.
Another unlikely spot for revisions is the Metropolitan Opera House. Just below the gilt ceiling and glass chandeliers are small desks equipped with lamps, where students and opera lovers can follow the score at a performance. A fine place to work on articles during lengthy opera intermissions.
Park benches are wonderful places for writing. Especially Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan, with its harbor views of white-topped slapping waves and passing ships.
I have favorite spots abroad for writing. One is the terrace of friends who own a lovely villa in the south of France overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. When visiting there, I glance up from my papers to search the horizon for the white steamer setting forth across the shimmering sea on its daily voyage from Nice to Corsica.
Another is the Fortezza dell'Albornoz, in the hill town of Urbino in northeastern Italy, Raphael's birthplace, where there are magnificent views of the Palazzo Ducale, a Renaissance masterpiece, and the Appennine Mountains rising beyond.
Any location in Venice encourages writing. This is because writing comes more easily if one has gestated a piece in advance. The best way for me to do this is by taking long walks. Venice is one of the great walking cities of the world.
Keats, when he had gone to the Isle of Wight to work, came upon a picture of Shakespeare in the passageway of his rooming house. As Walter Jackson Bate writes in an excellent biography of Keats, the landlady allowed him to move the picture into his room, where, after taking down a print of a French ambassador, he hung it above his books. Though he stayed in the rooming house only a week, the landlady insisted that he take the picture with him. Wherever Keats wrote, he always kept it by him.
Alas, I, who am in far greater need than he, have no such benevolent presence to inspire me. But if I were to choose one, I might well select a picture of Keats.