Feeling the burn

I think blogging is hard because I’m shy and self-conscious. Acknowledging that and recognizing that it’s normal is consoling, and to that effect, I liked this post on Raptitude.com titled “The Art of Enjoying the Burn” via SwissMiss.

There seems to be an equivalent "burn" with all forms of personal boundary-pushing, a tension or discomfort that comes with all attempts to reach higher-hanging fruit. (…) Creative work entails the burn of completing mediocre pieces of work, and showing them to people. (…) In every endeavor that isn’t already easy for you, progress requires you to move into certain uncomfortable feelings with regularity. So it makes sense, if you can, to interpret those feelings as good, rewarding, and reassuring – even though they aren’t, in and of themselves, pleasant.

Charlotte Brontë's writing habits

It's so fascinating to read and compare published author's habits and routines. The following quotations come from Elizabeth Gaskell's book: The Life of Charlotte Brontë.

She said that it was not every day that she could write. Sometimes weeks or even months elapsed before she felt that she had anything to add to that portion of her story which was already written. Then some morning, she would waken up, and the progress of her tale lay clear and bright before her, in distinct vision. When this was the case, all her care was to discharge her household and filial duties, so as to obtain leisure to sit down and write out the incidents and consequent thoughts, which were, in fact, more present to her mind at such times than her actual life itself. (p 233)

Anyone who has studied her writings, - whether in print or in her letters; anyone who has enjoyed the rare privilege of listening to her talk, must have noticed her singular felicity in the choice of words. She herself, in writing her books, was solicitous on this point. One set of words was the truthful mirror of her thoughts; no others, however apparently identical in meaning, would do. She had that strong practical regard for the simple holy truth of expression, which Mr Trench has enforced as a duty too often neglected. She would wait patiently searching for the right term, until it presented itself to her. It might be provincial, it might be derived from the Latin; so that it accurately represented her idea, she did not mind whence it came; but this care makes her style present the finish of a pice of mosaic. Each component part, however small, has been dropped into the right place. She never wrote down a sentence until she clearly understood what she wanted to say, had deliberately chosen the words, and arranged them in their right order. Hence it comes that, in the craps of paper covered with her pencil writing which I have seen, there will occasionally be a sentence scored out, but seldom, if ever, a word or an expression. She wrote on these bits of paper in a minute hand, holding each against a piece of board, such as is used in binding books, for a desk. This plan was necessary for one so short-sighted as she was, and, besides, it enabled her to use pencil and paper, as she sat near the fire in the twilight hours, or if (as was too often the case) she was wakeful for hours in the night. Her finished manuscripts were copied from these pencil scraps, in clear, legible, delicate traced writing, almost as easy to read as print. (p 234)


I really like what Alain de Botton writes about clichés in his book How Proust Can Change Your Life:

"The problem with clichés is not that they contain false ideas, but rather that they are superficial articulations of very good ones. (…) So if speaking in clichés is problematic, it is because the world itself contains a far broader range of rainfalls, moons, sunshines, and emotions than stock expressions either capture or teach us to expect." (pages 88 and 97)

Today I also enjoyed reading this: "How Do We Write Now?" by Patricia Lockwood at Tin House.

Writing endures

In a recent interview on Longform, here's what Craig Mod had to say about writing. It's a transcription from the podcast, but I would encourage you to listen to the episode, around 45 minutes in. 

The reason why I’m still writing, in part it’s just because I feel like that’s, for me it’s important to do that. I’ve looked at all the stuff I’ve worked on and the thing that has, if you want to make it really evidence-based, it’s like the things that I’ve worked on that have had the most interesting returns, talk like a finance engineer or something, the greatest long-term dividend payouts have been from writing. Like the most interesting people in my life I’ve connected through because of writing, the most interesting adventures I’ve gone on have been because of writing, more than the apps I’ve built, more than the websites I’ve put together. Which is weird in hindsight, looking back on it. I wouldn’t have expected that. But, uh, I think it just speaks to the fact that a condensed, well-formed piece of text has a tremendous amount of power still today, you know, in that all of writing for me is about conversation starting, how do we engage, how do I help people step up to a higher level for us to have a conversation together about something that’s exciting to me in the moment.


I am filled with restlessness. I feel like every quote on the subject applies to me and I look around to find a source and heap it with blame. Maybe it's the cold slow spring, maybe it's the equal parts charm and challenge of being home with my pre-school boys, maybe it's the projects I've engaged in their dull three-quarters phase. 

I do believe that the only solution is to do the work. When I feel discouraged, I read an encouraging thing, like this numbered writing advice from A List Apart, by Mark Bernstein.

Writing tip: Billy Collins

In the spirit of spring cleaning, here's a fun poem by Billy Collins. (Via)


Even if it keeps you up all night,
wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.

Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.

The more you clean, the more brilliant
your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take
to the open fields to scour the undersides
of rocks or swab in the dark forest
upper branches, nests full of eggs.

When you find your way back home
and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink,
you will behold in the light of dawn
the immaculate altar of your desk,
a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.

From a small vase, sparkling blue, lift
a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet,
and cover pages with tiny sentences
like long rows of devoted ants
that followed you in from the woods.

Writing tip: Keep a diary

This writing tip comes from David Sedaris' book Theft by Finding. Three quotes apply to the subject of keeping a diary:

When it comes to subject matter, all diarists are different. I was never one to write about my feelings, in part because they weren't that interesting (even to me) but mainly because they were so likely to change. Other people's feelings, though, that was a different story. Got a bone to pick with your stepmother or the manager of the place where you worked until yesterday? Please, let's talk!
If nothing else, a diary teaches you what you're interested in. (p. 3)

In order to record your life, you sort of need to live it. Not at your desk, but beyond it. Out in the world where it's so beautiful and complex and painful that sometimes you just need to sit down and write about it. (p. 9)

After coming home, I listened to the radio and cleaned up a little. A woman on All Things Considered wrote a book of advice called If You Want to Write and mentioned the importance of keeping a diary. It was valuable, she said, because after a while you'd stop being forced and pretentious and become honest and unafraid of your thoughts. (p. 94)

Writing tip: Eileen Myers

This week’s writing tip comes from the Happier in Holywood podcast, episode 25. In the course of an interview with Eileen Myers the hosts Sarah and Liz hone in on procrastination. “Why do you think you procrastinate?” they ask Eileen. Eileen answers, “I think procrastination comes down to two things for me and it’s either fear or resentment.” She explains that fear came in the beginning of her career when she wanted her writing to be great (“and if you want something to be great that is the fastest ticket to not doing anything…”). With time, Eileen decided to identify what she wanted from writing and discovered that she wanted the feeling of “the process is gratifying to me.” She describes this as “the idea came to me and it’s my job to pursue it and see it through”. Resentment, she explains, came later in her writing career as she received feedback on what she wrote and had to deal with its negative aspects.

If you want to hear how she deals with it, check out the podcast!

Writing tip: Jenna Fischer

This week’s writing tip comes from Episode 27 of the Happier in Hollywood Podcast. The podcast hosts, Elizabeth and Sarah interview Jenna Fischer about her book The Actor's Life: A Survival Guide. Fifteen minutes into the podcast, Jenna Fischer says: “create a consistent body of work”. It’s about building your reputation, about showing up, about practice. Her advice: you can't control opportunity but you can control your readiness, you can always be getting better. Finish what you start!

So that’s this week’s dose of encouragement. Go write!

Writing tip: Observation and courage

I received The New York Times Book of the Dead as a gift and plunged into its "literary world" section to find this week's tip. This tip is courtesy of Robert Frost who lived from 1874-1963. Here are two quotes from his obituary:

"I don't like to write anything I don't see." (The obituary remarks: "Thus he recorded timelessly how the swimming buck pushed the 'crumpled' water; how the wagon's wheels 'freshly sliced' the April mire; how the ice crystals from the frozen birch snapped off and went 'avalanching' on the snowy crust.")

"Explaining why he invited Mr. Frost to speak at his inauguration, President Kennedy said, 'I think politicians and poets share at least one thing, and that is their greatness depends upon the courage with which they face the challenges of life.'"

Writing tip: Stephen King

Next week it's Christmas! I'm always reminded of something Stephen King wrote in his book On Writing:

I used to tell interviewers that I wrote every day except for Christmas, the Fourth of July, and my birthday. That was a lie. I told them that because if you agree to an interview you have to say something, and it plays better if it’s something at least half-clever. Also, I didn’t want to sound like a workaholic dweeb (just a workaholic, I guess). The truth is that when I’m writing, I write every day, workaholic dweeb or not. That includes Christmas, the Fourth, and my birthday (at my age you try to ignore your goddam birthday anyway). And when I’m not working, I’m not working at all, although during those periods of full stop I usually feel at loose ends with myself and have trouble sleeping.

Writing tip: Bernard Malamud

This week's writing tip comes from Bernard Malamud in the excellent book Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. About Malamud, Currey writes the following:

The novelist and short-story writer was, in the words of his biographer, Philip Davis, a "time-hunted man." Malamud's daughter remembers him being "absolutely, compulsively prompt" throughout his life. (...) This obsessive punctuality served him well as a writer. (...) Malamud always found time to write and apparently never lacked for discipline. "Discipline is an ideal for the self," he once said. "If you have to discipline yourself to achieve art, you discipline yourself."

"Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you."

Writing tip by Kenneth Atchity

This week's writing tip comes from Kenneth Atchity's book, A Writer's Time, p. 58:

Constantly extending a deadline is a symptom of a dangerous syndrome: perfectionism and a lack of self-confidence. If you're afraid to stop working on a manuscript, remember that no book, however long the time producing it, will be perfect. Strive instead to perfect the way you spend your writing time.

Writing tip: Phil Toledano

This week’s writing tip comes from the photographer Phil Toledano who, talking about art for Vogue Italia, said “…more importantly that work made me realize that I could have a dialogue with myself and I could figure stuff out for myself through art and it was kind of an amazing experience…”

This is a recurring theme in art. Augustine of Hippo, who died centuries ago, expresses something similar: “I must confess that, personally, I have learned many things I never knew before… just by writing.”

Writing inspiration from Issa Rae

This week’s writing tip comes from an Issa Rae quote in Grace Bonney’s wonderful book titled: In the Company of Women.

It’s one thing to write every day – that’s already hard enough. But to complete something that you’re proud of, consistently, is a hard thing to do. I’ve started so many writing projects that I will never finish, just because I get discouraged or lazy or bored. I admire other creative women who say, “I’m going to finish no matter how horrible this piece of shit is.”

Writing tips: productivity, dissatisfaction, and happiness

This week’s writing tip begins with a quote from Chris Bailey’s book: The Productivity Project:

“Over the course of my project, I found that the best attitude to have with productivity is an odd one: to never be satisfied – but to continually find ways to cultivate happiness. Luckily, productivity, when done right, isn’t only one of the keys to happiness – happiness is one of the keys to productivity.

“The kinder you are to yourself as you become more productive, the more productive you will become.” (p 270)

Dissatisfaction is something Steven Taylor Goldsberry elaborates on in his book, The Writer’s Book of Wisdom. He calls it the “Get Used to Despair” rule number 6. “… Of all the arts, writing is perhaps the most difficult. It’s not a performing art, so you don’t have the immediacy of a live audience to let you know how you’re doing. It’s only black marks on white paper, so it’s not pretty like painting or architecture. Everyone thinks he can do it, so it has little prestige. It can be lonely work. (…)
“Are you sure you want to be a writer?
“If so, you must be willing to embrace the inevitable despair that accompanies meaningful creation.”
He includes a quote by J. B. Priestley:
“No matter how piercing and appalling his insights, the desolation creeping over his outer world, the lurid lights and shadows of his inner world, the writer must live with hope, work in faith.”

But let’s get back to happiness. In an interview with Tim O’Reilly, Gretchen Rubin asked what he has learned about happiness that he didn’t know when he was 18 and he responded, “(…) Decide what you need to do, make a habit of it, and come to love it rather than resent it. That applies to the habits of householding, to exercise and diet, to work, and to taking the time to reach out to friends and family. It is so easy to be full of resentment against the things that we feel are keeping us from our joy. Finding joy in what needs doing is magical.”

Writing tips: practicalities

This week’s edition deals with practical advice. First Chris Guillebeau in his daily podcast “Side Hustle School” offers a short guide about the steps involved in publishing a book. I enjoyed the overview and perhaps, if you haven’t looked into publishing a book, you might also like hearing Chris talk about it. It's titled "How to Get a Book Deal & Write a Book".

The second source comes from Chuck Wendig’s blog, in a post he titled “A Hot Steaming Sack of Business Advice for Writers”.

Writing tips from Brian Koppelman

In an archival episode of Design Matters, Debbie Millman interviews Brian Koppelman. In the course of the interview, Brian talks about what made him choose writing, what he used to overcome self-doubt, and how he quickly gets over the feeling of failure.

“…I’ve always had an awareness that if I’m not leading from a place of curiosity and fascination, I become sad and angry and miserable, and then I could be that way to the people that I love.”

“I think morning pages, because of Julia Cameron’s morning pages… (…) I started doing morning pages the way she talks about it, three longhand pages, freeform, not censoring yourself, not looking back and reading those pages, and in doing that I started to realize who I wanted to be, who I needed to be, and how to get there.”

“I learned how to put in place for myself, a protocol, a routine, so that I don’t get that way. I do morning pages, I meditate, I take long walks, I go somewhere and I start writing.”

Brian Koppelman's motivational Vines can be found here.