Pulitzer-prize winning novelist Jennifer Egan shares her three rules for writing

In the book Why We Write, 2011’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan shares three writing tips for aspiring writers:

  1. Read at the level at which you want to write. Reading is the nourishment that feeds the kind of writing you want to do. If what you really love to read is y, it might be hard for you to write x.
  2. Exercising is a good analogy for writing. If you’re not used to exercising you want to avoid it forever. If you’re used to it, it feels uncomfortable and strange not to. No matter where you are in your writing career, the same is true for writing. Even fifteen minutes a day will keep you in the habit.
  3. You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly. You can’t write regularly and well. One should accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.

Number two is my favorite piece of advice. Writing is like a muscle that needs to be worked out again and again, kind of like brushing your teeth. After you establish the habit, you should feel a bit empty when you don’t do it.  Make a schedule and stick to it.

‘Fashion constantly begins and ends in the two things it abhors most, singularity and vulgarity’

To be old-fashioned is the greatest crime a coat or a hat can be guilty of. To look like nobody else is a sufficiently mortifying reflection ; to be in danger of being mistaken for one of the rabble is worse. Fashion constantly begins and ends in the two things it abhors most, singularity and vulgarity. It is the perpetual setting up and disowning a certain standard of taste, elegance, and refinement, which has no other foundation or authority than that it is the prevailing distinction of the moment, which was yesterday ridiculous from its being new, and to-morrow will be odious from its being common.

— William Hazlitt, Table-Talk

‘The secret of theft, which is also called creativity’

@willkim

When asked how screenwriter and film director Paul Schrader came up with some of his scripts for the movie First Reformed, he responded like all remix artists:

PS: The secret of theft, which is also called “creativity,” is you have to steal a bit from a lot of different places. You can’t go to the same 7/11 every time because they’ll catch you. So you go to the photo shop, and you go to the gas station, and you go to that little hot dog stand that nobody goes to and by the end you’ve stolen enough stuff from enough places that people think its yours.

The internet can be the largest copy-paste machine. But it also offers a chance to pluck from a diversity of sources. Just be sure to recast, remix, and redistribute them in your own voice. To put it another way, Steal Like An Artist.

Read First Reformed – Q&A with Ethan Hawke and Paul Schrader

Both anxiety and desire ‘are tilted toward the future’

Open to Desire The Truth About What the Buddha Taught

Anxiety and desire are two, often conflicting, orientations to the unknown. Both are tilted toward the future. Desire implies a willingness, or a need, to engage this unknown, while anxiety suggests a fear of it. Desire takes one out of oneself, into the possibility or relationship, but it also takes one deeper into oneself. Anxiety turns one back on oneself, but only onto the self that is already known.

Mark Epstein M.D., Open to Desire: The Truth About What the Buddha Taught

‘How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives’

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

‘Human beings can aquire a certain solitude, even in the middle of New York City’

gif of new york on camera

Every thing in the world, every event, is like a dewdrop on a multidimentional spider’s web, and every dewdrop contains the reflection of all the other dewdrops. But you see, the hermit finds this out through his solitide, and so also human beings can aquire a certain solitude, even in the middle of New York City. It’s rather easier, as a matter of fact, to find solitude in New York City than it is in Des Moines, Iowa.

Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety

RIP Anthony Bourdain: ‘I love having my teeth kicked in by a different perspective’

Stay hungry. Stay curious. And above all, stay interesting. That’s the message I grasped from Anthony Bourdain.

Below are some of my favorite Bourdain quotes as posted on this blog throughout the years.

Don’t aspire to mediocrity. Even if you fail, try to be awesome. At something. Anything. It doesn’t matter. Just try to be awesome.

Life ain’t that simple . It IS complicated. And filled with nuance worth exploring.

Show up on time. It is the basis of everything.

We literally sit down and try to figure out, ‘What’s the most fucked-up thing we can do?’

I love having my teeth kicked in by a different perspective.

There are the type of people who are going to live up to what they said they were going to do yesterday and then there are people who are full of shit. And that’s all you really need to know. If you can’t be bothered to show up, why should anybody show up. It’s just the end of the fucking world.

Life ain’t that simple . It IS complicated. And filled with nuance worth exploring.

‘Life is the art of drawing without an eraser’

Such self-assessments are no great problem at your age. You’re young and moving up. The drama of your own rise is enough. But when you reach middle age, when your energies aren’t what they used to be, then you’ll begin to wonder what it all added up to; you’ll begin to look for the figure in the carpet of your life. I have some simple advice for you when you begin that process. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Look ahead. Someone said that “Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.” And above all don’t imagine that the story is over. Life has a lot of chapters.

— John Gardner, Personal Renewal