Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

True Art

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

True art has a mythic quality in that it speaks of that which was true, is true, and will be true.

Madeleine L’Engle, Herself, p. 11

The Power of Words

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

I believe in the power of words to help us reset our intentions, clarify our thoughts, and create a counternarrative to the voice of doubt many of us have murmuring in our heads — the one that says You can’t, you won’t, you shouldn’t have. Quotes, at their core, almost always shout, Yes!

— Cheryl Strayed, Brave Enough, p. x.

Keeping a Journal

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

Keeping a journal has taught me that there is not so much new in your life as you sometimes think. When you reread your journal you find out that your latest discovery is something you already found out five years ago. Still, it is true that one penetrates deeper and deeper into the same ideas and same experiences.

— Thomas Merton, A Thomas Merton Reader, p. 195

Meaning Through Reduction

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Writers reduce when they write, and readers reduce when they read. The brain itself is built to reduce, replace, emblemize . . . Verisimilitude is not only a false idol, but also an unattainable goal. So we reduce. And it is not without reverence that we reduce. This is how we apprehend our world. This is what humans do.

Picturing stories is making reductions. Through reduction, we create meaning.

These reductions are the world as we see it — they are what we see when we read, and they are what we see when we read the world.

— Peter Mendelsund, What We See When We Read, p. 415-416

When the Pattern Breaks

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Stories are about the dropped stitch. About what happens when the pattern breaks. Though there is a certain poetry in the rhythm of the everyday, it is most often a shift, a moment of not-always-so, that ends up being the story. Why is this moment different? What has changed? And why now? We would do well to ask ourselves these questions when we’re at work. This shift can be a massive one (here I am thinking of the dystopian novel in which the very rhythms of the universe are called into question: the sun no longer predictably rises in the east or sets in the west; a meteor is hurling toward earth; the oceans are rising), or it can be as subtle and internal as the Steven Millhauser story, “Getting Closer,” in which a nine-year-old boy on vacation with his family feels, for the first time, a searing, wordless awareness of time’s passage.

Why are we writing about this moment, and no other? And what can we do — stylistically, structurally, linguistically — to get inside it? How can we reveal the innards, the pulsing truth of this character who is — let’s face it — at some sort of juncture, because if he isn’t, why would the story be worth telling?

— Dani Shapiro, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, p. 136-137

The Practice of Writing

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

It’s the same with writing, which is a practice like any other. If I waited to be in the mood to write, I’d barely have a chapbook of material to my name. Who would ever be in the mood to write? Do marathon runners get in the mood to run? Do teachers wake up with the urge to lecture? I don’t know, but I doubt it. My guess is that it’s the very act that is generative. The doing of the thing that makes possible the desire for it. A runner suits up, stretches, begins to run. An inventor trudges down to his workroom, closing the door behind him. A writer sits in her writing space, setting aside the time to be alone with her work. Is she inspired doing it? Very possibly not. Is she distracted, bored, lonely, in need of stimulation? Oh, absolutely, without a doubt it’s hard to sit there. Who wants to sit there? Something nags at the edges of her mind. Should she make soup for dinner tonight? She’s on the verge of jumping up from her chair — in which case all will be lost — but wait. Suddenly she remembers: this is her hour (or two, or three). This is her habit, her job, her discipline. Think of a ballet dancer at the barre. Plié, elevé, battement tendu. She is practicing, because she knows there is no difference between practice and art. The practice is the art.

— Dani Shapiro, Still Writing, p. 50-51

Permission

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Writers! You must give yourself permission, by a daily act of will, to believe in your remembered truth. Do not remain nameless to yourself. Only you can turn on the switch; nobody is going to do it for you. Nobody gave George Gershwin permission to write “Rhapsody in Blue” at the age of 25, when he had only written 32-bar popular songs. Nobody gave Frank Lloyd Wright permission to design a round museum.

— William Zinsser, The Writer Who Stayed, p. 161

The Community of the Written Word

Monday, January 7th, 2013

I belong to the community of the written word in several ways. First, books have taught me most of what I know, and they have trained my attention and my imagination. Second, they gave me a sense of the possible, which is the great service — and too often, when it is ungenerous, the great disservice — a community performs for its members. Third, they embodied richness and refinement of language, and the artful use of language in the service of the imagination. Fourth, they gave me and still give me courage. Sometimes, when I have spent days in my study dreaming a world while the world itself shines outside my windows, forgetting to call my mother because one of my nonbeings has come up with a thought that interests me, I think, this is a very odd way to spend a life. But I have my library all around me, my cloud of witnesses to the strangeness and brilliance of human experience, who have helped me to my deepest enjoyments of it.

— Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child, I Read Books, p. 22-23

Go Deeper

Monday, July 9th, 2012

When I coach students through essay writing, I invariably give the most able the same direction: go deeper, go deeper. In each iteration, reveal more, of who you truly are, of what you really think. That’s the hallmark of aging, too, that we learn to go deeper, in our friendships, in our family life, in our reflections on how we live and how we face the future. The reason we develop an equanimity about our lives and ourselves is that we have gone deep into what has real meaning.

— Anna Quindlen, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, p. 149

Reading Connection

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

That’s what’s so wonderful about reading, that books and poetry and essays make us feel as though we’re connected, as though the thoughts and feelings we believe are singular and sometimes nutty are shared by others, that we are all more alike than different. It’s the wonderful thing about writing, too. Sometimes I would think I was the only person alive concerned about some crazy cul-de-sac of human behavior. Then I would get the letters from readers and realize that that was not the case, that we were not alone, any of us.

— Anna Quindlen, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, p. x