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Creativity Life & Philosophy Writing

Maria Popova talks about writing for herself, creativity, and more on the Tim Ferriss Podcast

Below are some of the highlights of Maria Popova from her interview on the Tim Ferriss podcast. Some of the topics discussed include how to be interesting, on doing the work, and what makes a person creative.

On being interesting

  • “The key to being interesting is being interested and enthusiastic about those interests.”
  • When Kurt Vonnegut wrote “write to please just one person” what he was really saying was write for yourself. Don’t try to please anyone but yourself.
  • Content implies an “external motive” for advertisement. Nobody does content from the joy of their soul. Write because it’s personal and you love it.

Summary: Write for yourself. Stay interested. Don’t call your writing content.

“Love words. Agonize over sentences. Pay attention to the world.”

Susan Sontag

On writing

  • “Becoming” is a life long process. You never stop evolving so what you want to become is never done.
  • The most important aspect to work is consistency. All successful authors are consistent about their work. They show up and do it.

The formula for greatness: “Consistency driven by the deep love of the work.”

On creating

  • You don’t have to have a mental illness to be creative. That’s bunk. Yet without art, you may suffer even more.

On reading

  • “Literature is the original Internet. Every footnote, every citation, every reference, is a hyperlink to another book.” Read books, not just tweets, to find other compelling content.
  • “I read to make sense of life. The writing is a record of the reading.” Moments of time, place, weather, etc impact what you read. As long as it helps make your life better and richer in moment and long run, read it.

On inspiration:

  • Thoreau’s journals are timeless: “Those who work much do not work hard.”

Listen: Podcast: Maria Popova Hosts the Tim Ferriss Show

Categories
Arts Creativity Culture Writing

Maria Popova: I loathe the term “content”

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Brain Pickings blogger Maria Popova sat down with WordPress in the Own Your Content series to discuss evergreen ideas and rethinking the meaning of content.

Popova writes about timeless topics. “I am drawn to ideas that remain resonant across time and space, across cultures and civilizations.” If you read her blog, you know that she excels in digging up little-known gems from primary sources and combining them in an interesting way.

Her talent reminds me of what professor Kenneth Goldsmith of the University of Pennsylvania said about education in the internet era: “an educated person in the future will be a curious person who collects better artifacts. The ability to call up and use facts is the new education. How to tap them, how to use them.”

Maria excels in making old content relevant again. Following her blog is a direct line to her insatiable curiosity.

In this sense, then, it naturally inclines toward what you call “evergreen” — which I take to mean enduring ideas that hold up across the years, decades, and centuries, and continue to solace and give meaning undiminished by time.

Yet, she also dislikes the word content as it compels merchants to race the bottom in the form of attention-seeking missiles:

I loathe the term “content” as applied to cultural material — it was foisted upon us by a commercially driven media industry that treats human beings as mindless eyeballs counted in statistics like views and likes, as currency to be traded against advertising revenue. Somehow people have been sold on the idea that the relationship between ads and “content” is a symbiotic one, but it is a parasitic one.

While tech may be the cigarette of the century,  the internet does provide space for writers like Maria Popova to demonstrate combinatorial creativity in the name of the hyperlink. If used properly, the internet can be a learning machine rather than a propaganda tool.

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Creativity Psychology Writing

Writing vs. blogging

sound of music
Let it all out

If you want to feel like you’re losing, write a book. If you want to feel like you’re winning, blog. With a blog, you can publish every day to get your hit of dopamine. A book is a practice in delaying gratification.

Writing or blogging is a matter of preference. Seth Godin publishes a blog post every day in addition to writing books and working on his altMBA program. Maria Popova is a blogger that specializes in digging through old print books to inspire blog posts but admits that she has no appetite to pen a novel herself.

The most important thing is to write and enjoy the practice, even if your writing never sees the light of day. You should write for yourself anyway. Just don’t write so hard in your turtle shell that you remember to be a human being.

“Those who work much do not work hard.”

Henry David Thoreau
Categories
Creativity Tech

This professor describes the future educated person

future education
Illustration by Clay Rodery

Dear digital denizens, please rest easy.

That so-called ‘internet addiction’ you have is an evolution of what humans have been doing along — curating, collecting, and sharing. We just do it with more often with the assistance of our screens.

According to professor Kenneth Goldsmith at the University of Pennsylvania, “an educated person in the future will be a curious person who collects better artifacts. The ability to call up and use facts is the new education. How to tap them, how to use them.”

Professor Goldsmith named his course “Wasting Time on the Internet”– an incentive that gets his students to sign up. However, it has the opposite effect. Instead of screen-staring, his students are more likely to create and collaborate.

“They became more creative with each other. They say we’re less social; I think people on the web are being social all the time. They say we’re not reading; I think we’re reading all the time, just online.”

The web is the world’s biggest copy-paste machine. On top of this, Google is our second brain. The fear is that humans will lose their ability to think. However, what happens instead is that we allow more ideas to have sex. Remixing ideas is what Maria Popova of Brainpickings often refers to as “combinatorial creativity.”

“When a D.J. brings a laptop full of music samples to a club he doesn’t play an instrument, but we don’t argue that he isn’t doing something creative in mixing those sounds to create his own effect. In the online world the only thing you’re the master of is your collection, your archive, and how you use it, how you remix it. We become digital archivists, collecting and cataloging things. I find it exciting.”

It turns out that wasting time on the Internet could be productive rather than harmful. To think the Internet also means the end of books and face to face communication is also an exaggeration. Of course, like any tool, it depends on what you are using the Internet for — playing games is not the same as sharing research and new ideas.

What’s your opinion on learning in the Internet age? Tweet at me.

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Uncategorized

Copying to create your own work

The Internet is the world’s biggest copy machine. All it takes is a right click to replicate someone else’s work. As long as you give credit to the source you’re in the clear.

But copying someone’s idea and personalizing it is a different kind of copying, the one that enables you to get started.

The reason I started the weekly reading recommendations is because I saw the format on Om Malik’s blog. The reason I started my music blog Silem Davis was because I liked Maria Popova’s “Literary Jukebox” concept. The reason I used the Paper Fifty Three Tumblr blog template was because I liked the way it displayed art. One of the reasons I blog daily and in short succinct paragraphs is to ape the style of Seth Godin. These are just some of the more recent examples where I copied a concept to express my own work.

There’s literal copying in the form of plagiarism and then there’s inspirational copying where you see a concept or idea and emulate it your own format, words, and discoveries. There’s no harm in the latter.

Copying is the process of learning and combining ideas that fit your style.  The baton of influence just keeps getting passed on to inspire others to create their own work.  After all, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

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Uncategorized

How Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, And Maria Popova Got More Creative

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.

We can’t connect the dots without broad experiences and experiments.