In writing by hand, we deliberately pause to make the brain wait. This forced interruption, called disinfluency, yields more thoughtful writing.
There’s a reason many successful writers from David Foster Wallace to JK Rowling opt to write with pen and paper. When your mind moves as fast as the computer keys, you tend to overproduce. It’s like taking down all the professor’s notes in class. While everything gets consumed none of the words have staying power.
There’s no such thing as a tranquil flood of information.
It’s true: the more you get down, the more you have to play with. They even say to write continuously to push out our ideas. But acceleration can reduce the quality of your prose. The neurons need time to connect to each other in order to talk with more clarity.
All writing is in the edit. Yet, keyboard or longhand, the doubts still remain.
“Things usually work out in the end.”
“What if they don’t?”
“That just means you haven’t come to the end yet.”
— Jeanette Walls, The Glass Castle: A Memoir
Nothing is more abandoned than the desert. Yet, there is nothing more stimulating than letting the imagination fill in the empty space.
The blank page work the same way. We fill it in with fiction and truth, recasting observations and thoughts about our surroundings.
Curiosity is the best book. As more land becomes visible, we realize how much more hides away in the distance. It’s vital to get outside the bubble that is our screen-obsessed culture. We’ve let entertainment replace reading and thinking. We’ve outsourced our memory to social media. Society is becoming plastic.
Jettison the map. It is arbitrary, anyway. As the Polish-American scientist Alfred Korzybski once said, “the map is not the territory.”
We shall explore the world as a desert, as William Atkins writes “a library whose shelves have never been occupied.” The cost of distance is nothing compared to the rich expansion of the mind’s eye.
He knew now that it was his own will to happiness which must make the next move. But if he was to do so, he realized that he must come to terms with time, that to have time was at once the most magnificent and the most dangerous of experiments. Idleness is fatal only to the mediocre.
— Albert Camus, A Happy Death
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. 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
“It is six A.M., and I am working. I am absentminded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be. The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard. The poem gets written. I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely. It does not include mustard, or teeth. It does not extend to the lost button, or the beans in the pot. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.
There is no other way work of artistic worth can be done. And the occasional success, to the striver, is worth everything. The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
— Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
“Every sentence is a wispy net, capturing a few flecks of meaning. The sun shines without vocabulary. The salmon has no name for the urge that drives it upstream. The newborn groping for the nipple knows hunger long before it knows a single word. Even with an entire dictionary in one’s head, one eventually comes to the end of words. Then what? Then drink deep like the baby, swim like the salmon, burn like any brief star.”
— Scott Russell Sanders, Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World
“In practice it is the negative that’s used by the pros, those selected by evolution: chess grandmasters usually win by not losing; people become rich by not going bust (particularly when others do); religions are mostly about interdicts; the learning of life is about what to avoid. You reduce most of your personal risks of accident thanks to a small number of measures.”
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile
Below is a couple time management tips excerpted from New York Times Opinion writer Pamela Druckerman in her new book There Are No Grown-ups: A Midlife Coming-of-Age Story.
Follow your verve
When you’re trying to decide between several options, pay attention to which one energizes you and which one makes you feel tired just thinking about it. (I learned this from a life coach, Janet Orth.) This isn’t always feasible; practical factors can intrude and there are things you must do. But it’s worth weighing the “energy” factor, too. Even as a grown-up, it’s okay to choose the option that seems like more fun.
Don’t let the internet eat your life
Rules help. A children’s book author tells me that he only returns emails on Thursdays. Another writer tells me he never goes online between nine a.m. and five p.m. (“If I look something up, it’s an hour.”)
Focusing on the long term helps, too. The British writer Zadie Smith got a flip phone and installed internet-blocking software on her computer once she realized that she didn’t want to be 86 “and think that a large part of the life had been spent on Mr. Jobs, in his universe, on his phone, with his apps. I didn’t want that for my life.”
“Confronting the worst-case scenario saps it of much of its anxiety-inducing power. Happiness reached via positive thinking can be fleeting and brittle; negative visualisation generates a vastly more dependable calm.”
— Oliver Burkeman,
“Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it. It’s like boats. You keep your motor on so you can steer with the current. And when you hear the sound of the waterfall coming nearer and nearer, tidy up the boat, put on your best tie and hat, and smoke a cigar right up till the moment you go over. That’s a triumph’
— Ray Bradbury, Farewell Summer
“Love is a form of prejudice. You love what you need, you love what makes you feel good, you love what is convenient. How can you say you love one person when there are ten thousand people in the world that you would love more if you ever met them? But you’ll never meet them. All right, so we do the best we can. Granted. But we must still realize that love is just the result of a chance encounter.”
— Charles Bukowski, Hot Water Music