So privileged, last night, to hear a lecture at Kalamazoo College by Christopher Clark, one of the world's leading historians. His recent book on the causes of World War I is called The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914; and please note the interesting "How" in the subtitle. Clark says he used "how" because "why" discussions tend to get abstract: he wanted to keep things focused and concrete. Also, he said (paraphrasing) that "why" discussions almost inevitably devolve into questions of blame and finger-pointing, which are … [Read More...]
Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the best writers on the web right now, using his Atlantic.com blog and other venues to discuss race, culture, history, and a myriad of other topics. He writes long, thoughtful pieces, and even his commenters can be dauntingly erudite.
He's currently debating New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait on whether there's a "culture of poverty" in U.S. black communities, and while the debate is definitely worth checking out for its main points, I glommed onto this statement by Coates:
"The set of practices … [Read More...]
Recently, I've noticed an interesting evolution in the writing productivity classes I teach.
Up until a few years ago, writers almost always took one of my classes because they were procrastinating or blocked on a book or other work. These days, however, many who take my classes have finished their book: it's their marketing they're stuck on.
And many of those who are stuck are indie publishers.
To understand what's going on, you first need to understand that procrastination isn't caused by laziness, lack of … [Read More...]
Everyone gets rejected. Even Kurt Vonnegut, Madonna, Andy Warhol, and others who went on to be luminaries in their field.
If you get rejected, don't take it to heart. Learn from the experience and move on.
Mostly, rejection is simply proof that you haven't given up--which is a great thing. … [Read More...]
Ann Patchett has many useful things to say about writing in her new essay collection, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, and in particular about the core creative challenge of surviving the fatal moment when, having finally summoned the courage to bring your vision to life, it immediately disappoints:
"Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words. This is why we type a line or two and then hit the delete button or crumple up … [Read More...]
In my case, it used to be perfectionism that shut down the creative process before it started. I spent nearly five years writing and rewriting the same novel chapter because I was terrified of having others see it and judge it.
Then - as I got less perfectionist - my biggest barrier became time management. I had to learn to aggressively get rid of unimportant and even semi-important activities to clear lots of time for writing and my indie publishing business.
Nowadays, I'm not very perfectionist, and I also have more time. But … [Read More...]
Going off the Internet seems a radical act, but for most people it's essential for creativity. The Internet is inherently and continuously interruptive, and that's not a good mix with creative work, or productivity in general.
In classes, I quote Jonathan Franzen (“It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”) and other famous writers on the importance of disconnecting. Then I urge students to disconnect by having two computers:
a stripped down, "vanilla" one without any … [Read More...]
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
That famous quote from Muhammad Ali really does captures the spirit and essence of productive, joyful work. Let's break it down:
1) “Float like a butterfly.” You move lightly and freely around and through your work until you see an aspect of it that inspires you. (Inspiration = an easy opportunity to do a bit of writing, editing, outlining, planning, telephoning, or other work.) And then you:
2) “Sting like a bee.” Go right for it; do the work as much and as well as you are able. … [Read More...]
The Inimitable One offers a list of one-star reviews of books that later went on to win science fiction's celebrated Hugo award.
My favorite is this review of Scalzi's own novel Red Shirts, which actually uses the word "onanistic":
This is an onanistic shallow and very disappointing book. Little or no character development. What should have been an interesting short story based on a somewhat interesting conceit has been puffed out to novel length and suffers hugely from the increased exposure. Don’t waste your time or … [Read More...]