Resilient Activism and Productive Writing: the Habits of Derrick Jensen

Resilient Activism and Productive Writing: the Habits of Derrick Jensen


Photograph by Dawn Paley.

Derrick Jensen is the award-winning author of over 20 books and has written for Orion, Audubon, The Sun, and many other magazines. Jensen makes a compelling argument that civilization is inherently unsustainable:

“To pretend that civilization can exist without destroying its own landbase and the landbases and cultures of others is to be entirely ignorant of history, biology, thermodynamics, morality, and self-preservation.” ~ from Endgame, Vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization

As a reader, I first encountered Jensen when I read his searing memoir, A Language Older Than Words, a remarkable work of truth-telling that reveals how personal cycles of abuse operate on the same patterns as abuse of the environment. Jensen’s writing combines enormous passion with piercing rationality that challenges some of our deepest cultural biases. I was interested to know more about how Jensen works and what habits support his activism; he generously agreed to this interview:

What’s your own daily routine like? What habits do you cultivate and what benefits do you find in them?

Let’s start at midnight. I’ve printed out what I worked on that day. I go to bed and then I edit it. Then I’ll turn off the light and lie there and ruminate on what I just edited, and what comes next. I’ll turn on the light and hand write some, and then turn off the light, and ruminate and drift and think and not think, and then turn on the light and write. I’ll do that for a couple of hours, and then sleep. I’ll wake up fairly late, like 10 or 11, and then I’ll type up what I edited and what I wrote the night before. Then I’ll get up and print that out, and edit it. I’ll take a walk through the forest. Then in the evening I’ll go to my mom’s house and watch a baseball game or a BBC mystery, and then I’ll go home and work some more, and then it will be midnight and I’ll print out what I worked on that day, and start the process over.

I’m known for being very prolific. I’ve written more than 20 books. But the truth is that I haven’t written more than 20 books. Instead I’ve written a page or two every day, and it has added up to more than 20 books. My mom always tells me something her grandmother always said to her: Yard by yard life is hard; inch by inch life’s a cinch.

It’s extraordinary how much work you can get done if you just keep at it, and you actually do the work.

You seem to be a tireless activist; what habits help you maintain a healthy level of self-care to balance the energy it takes for your activism work

The world is being killed. I need to do my part.

When I was in 8th grade I went out for football. I had a friend who was 2 years older than I who said to me, “No matter how tired you get, give it your best. You don’t want to look back and say, ‘I could have tried harder.'” The 8th grade football experiment was a complete fiasco for any number of reasons, but I learned that lesson. So I don’t want to look back at the end of my life and say I could have done more. I don’t want to die with any books still in me.

Also, I don’t have any friends in my life with whom I have to revisit Civilization is Bad 101 every time I open my mouth. None of my friends are human supremacists. None of my friends likes this culture. I can’t fight this culture and my friends too. It’s so great to be able to call up a friend and cry with them about how horrible it is what this culture is doing to the planet. And it’s great to be able to call up a friend and say, “Yay! The stock market went down 300 points today!”

And also I fully recognize that the murder of the planet is the culture’s fault. It’s not my fault. No matter how much this culture tries to convince us that it’s all your fault and my fault because we buy food at the grocery store (how ridiculous is it that they kill the salmon in the river and then I’m supposed to feel guilty for buying food at the grocery store?). It is my responsibility to do my part to stop this culture from killing the planet, but it’s not my _fault_. I’m fighting the culture, not myself. This is absolutely crucial. It’s not your fault, and don’t let the sociopaths in charge try to make you think it is. Fight them like hell.

Believing the fault is ours is a tremendous energy drain.

It’s obvious that your writing takes significant research as well as thoughtful reflection, and you clearly have a deep relationship to your landbase. Do you have strategies for managing time spent at the desk with time spent outside?

I live in a forest. I love this forest. And the forest is dying. Bats are disappearing. Butterflies are disappearing. Newts are disappearing. Frogs are disappearing. Salamanders are disappearing. I walk through the forest every day. It rejuvenates me. And it also helps the work. The trees and others often tell me what to write.

Are there any habits you’re trying to develop now? What motivated you to work on them?

Not so much. A lot of the habits I have are serving me pretty well. I spent so much time in my teens and 20s and 30s developing good habits, good work habits. And learning _how_ to tell whether I’m writing crap or good stuff.

Who or what inspires you? Whose habits would you like to know more about and why?

People who are fighting to save wild beings or wild places inspire me. People who fight against daunting odds but don’t quit inspire me. The real world inspires me.

You can learn more about Derrick Jensen’s work at his web site; he also hosts Resistance Radio, a weekly radio interview series on the Progressive Radio Network.

Coach.me provides everything you need to improve performance in diet, fitness, productivity, and life. Here are some habits you can add to your Coach.me dashboard to support your own work as a writer or activist:

  • #500WED: a challenge to fall in love with writing again. Can you write 500 Words Every Day for a month?

  • Walk / Nature Time: keep your connection to nature alive.

  • Keep in Touch with Friends: build resiliency into your life by fostering connection with the people who matter.