“Pleasure is the pleasure of the powers that create a truth that cannot be arrived at by reason alone, a truth that the poet recognizes by sensation. The morality of the poet’s radiant and productive atmosphere is the morality of the right sensation.”Wallace Stevens
“[…] in your life, if you’re a good artist, you have one good idea. But if you’re a genius, you maybe have two good ideas.”Marina Abramović (quoting her professor of art history), quoted in Mason Curry’s Subtle Manouvers newsletter (11.07.22)
“[…] part of the solution is not being so precious about ideas and accepting that they’re just a starting point. The other part—maybe the bigger part—is learning to tolerate discomfort. Is that, in fact, the most important skill for any writer? (Or visual artist or musician or fill-in-the-blank creative person?) It might be. Because so much of the process is just really, really uncomfortable. It requires butting up against your own shortcomings over and over and over.”Mason Curry, Subtle Manouvers newsletter (11.07.22)
“Pretty much every great worthwhile achievement in human history, every discovery or accomplishment that’s improved our lives, has been based on cooperation and mutual aid; even now, most of us spend more of our money on our friends and families than on ourselves; while likely as not there will always be competitive people in the world, there’s no reason why society has to be based on encouraging such behavior, let alone making people compete over the basic necessities of life. That only serves the interests of people in power, who want us to live in fear of one another. That’s why anarchists call for a society based not only on free association but mutual aid. The fact is that most children grow up believing in anarchist morality, and then gradually have to realize that the adult world doesn’t really work that way. That’s why so many become rebellious, or alienated, even suicidal as adolescents, and finally, resigned and bitter as adults; their only solace, often, being the ability to raise children of their own and pretend to them that the world is fair. But what if we really could start to build a world which really was at least founded on principles of justice? Wouldn’t that be the greatest gift to one’s children one could possibly give?”David Graeber, Are You An Anarchist?
Last week I browsed Brevity, a website dedicated to the brief essay form, and I chanced upon a blog post by Kate Walter called ‘Rotating the Writing Crops‘. After working long and hard during the pandemic to publish her memoir Kate, naturally, ran dry. Some time afterwards an editor commissioned her for an assignment and while writing it a metaphor occurred to her: farming and rotating crops.
“The writing equivalent of rotating my crops is switching genres from essays to journalism or maybe to back to fiction. I have been planting and harvesting the essays and memoir fields for decades. I realized it was necessary to let those be fallow at least for a few months. That specific soil needed to rest.”
A few months ago I was working hard on an essay of my own, but after three months work something gave out. I couldn’t continue with it. Diminishing returns. I took a while for me to recognise what happened but I took it as my body’s way of saying enough. Yes, work ethic goes a long long way in sustaining creative output, more so than inspiration, but sooner or later something will give. So, for now, I’m working on lighter (but no less loved) forms like haiku and haibun while my own essay crop lies fallow.
“The bigger the issue, the smaller you write. Remember that. You don’t write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid’s burnt socks lying on the road. You pick the smallest manageable part of the big thing, and you work off the resonance.”Richard Price
“When I started both of my books, at first I fell into the same mindset trap of thinking too far ahead — “OMG, 100,000 words to go, why did I get myself into this?!?” Now I keep the phrase “cutting stone” on a little white board on my desk, a reminder just to take each single, barely perceptible axe-chop at the stone at a time, and eventually it will be ground to dust.”Dave Epstein, ‘Start Where You Are‘
“People say to me, ‘Oh, you’re so prolific’…God, it doesn’t feel like it—nothing like it. But, you know, you put an ounce in a bucket each day, you get a quart.”John McPhee quoted in Cal Newport’s ‘Slow Productivity‘ post.
“What I wish I could have told myself when I was hopeless about my writing prospects is that I should have defined artistic success in ways that weren’t shaped by forces beyond my control. Sometimes, success is getting a handful of words you don’t totally hate on the page. Sometimes success is working a full-time job to support your family and raising your kids and finding a way, over several years, to write and finish a novel. Sometimes it’s selling a book to a small press for 25 copies of your book and a vague promise of royalties you may never see. And sometimes, if you are very lucky, artistic success is marked by the glittery things so many of us yearn for — the big money deals, the critical accolades, the multicity book tours, the movie options.
Writing and publishing are two very different things. Other writers are not your measure. Try not to worry about what other people your age or younger have already accomplished because it will only make you sick with envy or grief. The only thing you can control is how you write and how hard you work. […] All the other writers in the world are not having more fun than you, no matter what it might seem like on social media, where everyone is showing you only what they want you to see.
Write as well as you can, with as much heart as you can, whenever you can.”Roxane Gay, ‘Ask Roxane: Is It Too Late to Follow My Dreams?‘
“… in media-rich human-built environments, my capacity to direct my attention in keeping with my purposes is often at odds with features of the environment that want to command my attention in keeping with purposes that are not my own. It is the difference between feeling challenged to rise to an occasion that ultimately yields an experience of competence and satisfaction, and feeling assaulted by an environment explicitly designed to thwart and exploit me.
Attention and attending are etymologically related to the Latin word attendere, which suggested among other things the idea of “stretching toward” something. I like this way of thinking about attention, not as a possession in limited supply, theoretically quantifiable, and ready to be exploited, but rather as a capacity to actively engage the world—to stretch ourselves toward it, to reach for it, to care for it, indeed, to tend it.
Right now, I’m inclined to put it this way: our dominant technologies excel at exploiting our attention while simultaneously eroding our capacity to attend to the world.”L.M. Sacasas, The Convivial Society, ‘Attending to the World’
“The most subversive thing you can do is to write clearly and directly, asserting the facts as you understand them, your perceptions as you’ve gathered them.
Part of the trouble may be this: you’re afraid your ideas aren’t good enough, your sentences not clever or original enough.
But what if your ideas are coherent and thoughtful? What if allowing us to see what is accurate and true is among the best work writing can do?
One purpose of writing -its central purpose- is to offer your testimony about the character of existence at this moment.”Several Short Sentences About Writing (p.132-133), Verlyn Klinkenborg
“One question a teacher of writing is often asked, in one form or another is: “Do I have it?” Or, you know, “Do I have it?” That is: “If I keep working at this, will it, in the end, be worth it? Am I a real writer? Will I be able to publish? Can you guarantee, based on what you’ve seen of my writing (of me, my life, my disposition), that this will all work out?””
Speaking from the heart: I have never been able to tell, at all. Honestly. Even among our very gifted students at Syracuse, I would never hazard a guess. There are too many variables and too many unknowns.
… for her, the writer, the game is not: “First, satisfy myself that, if I do the work and put in the time, all will be well, and then, well-pleased, go ahead and do the work” but, rather: “Do the work in order to find out.””George Saunders, Story Club, Issue ‘Joy, not Fear’
If you haven’t already I’d recommend subscribing to George Saunders’ Story Club newsletter. He’s a superb writing teacher.