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What I have seen is that the happiest people discover their own nature and match their life to it.
Creativity—that state when ideas seem to organize themselves into a swift, tightly woven flow, with a feeling of gorgeous clarity and meaning emerging…at such times, when I am writing, thoughts seem to organize themselves in spontaneous succession and to clothe themselves instantly in appropriate words. I feel I can bypass or transcend much of my own personality, my neuroses. It is at once not me and the innermost part of me, certainly the best part of me.
If you really believe in what you are doing, you’ll create it, self-publish it if necessary, rather than ape the tired clichés and genres that blinkered editors tell you the readers want.
I feel a divine connection with eternal life when I write. I feel like something better than me is coming out of me.
When I was playing, I just wanted to get the technical part as best I could and leave the other part to the universal spirit. If I’d do my part, the universe would do its part. The universe is good, and it’s there for us to realize it.
A work of art is the one mystery, the one extreme magic; everything else is either arithmetic or biology…when I read a work of art my senses sail way into a universe of wonder: How is it possible?
It’s not the word made flesh we want in writing, in poetry and fiction, but the flesh made word.
More and more, it became clear to me that music was not going to simply be a hobby or an outlet for something that would be entertaining, but rather, music was part of a spiritual discipline… because this is what I was looking for. I was looking for myself, a way to understand myself, and I was looking for a way to understand those who are not myself, and I was looking to understand the community that I was born in.
David Foster Wallace
Writing fiction becomes a way to go deep inside yourself and illuminate precisely the stuff you don’t want to see or let anyone else see, and this stuff usually turns out (paradoxically) to be precisely the stuff all writers and readers everywhere share and respond to.
Rashied Ali, on John Coltrane
He always had an instrument in his hand. He was always playing something. He was always trying to be better than he was and it seemed like, you know, how could he get better? How could he do anything better than that, than what he’s done already? And after playing all these years with all these different people…the man still had a vision that he could be better than he was and he was still practicing.
William Carlos Williams
It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.
John Jeremiah Sullivan
At a certain point the document further crystallizes, into the form—the essay, the book, whatever it is. It’s there and it’s making a sound. From the very first page. If you poked it with a needle, it would sing a certain way. That’s the best moment. Finally, I hand it over to an editor, and the madness repeats itself several times. But that’s good hard work, too, that gets you somewhere. Together we push the piece as far across the plane toward perfection as possible, landing somewhere that still feels depressingly far from perfection. After that is just total emptiness and exhaustion. The only thing worse would be not having written it.
This is the entire essence of life: Who are you? What are you?
The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself.
It is the task of the writer to become that permeable and transparent; to become, in the words of Henry James, a person on whom nothing is lost. What is put into the care of such a person will be well tended. Such a person can be trusted to tell the stories she is given to tell, and to tell them with the compassion that comes when the self’s deepest interest is not in the self, but in turning outward and into awareness.
Sooner or later, the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.
Ursula Le Guin
Our culture doesn’t think storytelling is sacred; we don’t set aside a time of year for it. We don’t hold anything sacred except what organized religion declares to be so. Artists pursue a sacred call, although some would buck and rear at having their work labeled like this. Artists are lucky to have a form in which to express themselves; there is a sacredness about that, and a terrific sense of responsibility. We’ve got to do it right. Why do we have to do it right? Because that’s the whole point: either it’s right or it’s all wrong.
All those I think who have lived as literary men—working daily as literary labourers—will agree with me that three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write. But then, he should have so trained himself that he shall be able to work continuously during those three hours.
Time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers.
Amis said that he writes every weekday, driving himself to an office less than a mile from his London apartment. “Everyone assumes I’m a systematic and nose-to-the-grindstone kind of person…but to me it seems like a part-time job, really, in that writing from eleven to one continuously is a very good day’s work. Then you can read or play tennis or snooker. Two hours. I think most writers would be very happy with two hours of concentrated work.”
Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven’s breakfast was coffee, which he prepared himself with great care—he determined that there should be sixty beans per cup, and he often counted them out one by one for a precise dose.
I am not able to write regularly…but the important thing is that I don’t do anything else. I avoid the social life normally associated with publishing. I don’t go to cocktail parties, I don’t give or go to dinner parties. I need that time in the evening because I can do a tremendous amount of work then. And I can concentrate. When I sit down to write I never brood.
(Despite boasting otherwise) the great British diarist and biographer often had a terrible time getting out of bed in the morning and frequently fell prey to the “vile habit of wasting the precious morning hours in lazy slumber.”
Heller wrote Catch-22 in the evenings after work, sitting at the kitchen table in his Manhattan apartment. “I spent two or three hours a night on it for eight years. I gave up once and started watching television with my wife. Television drove me back to Catch-22. I couldn’t imagine what Americans did at night when they weren’t writing novels.”
His contemporaries remember him as having a cheerful disposition, but Liszt obviously had his share of demons. A younger colleague once asked why he didn’t keep a diary. “To live one’s life is hard enough. Why write down all the misery? It would resemble nothing more than the inventory of a torture chamber.”
I must write each day without fail, not so much for the success of the work, as in order not to get out of my routine.
To me George was a little sad all the time because he had this compulsion to work,” Ira Gershwin said of his brother. He was dismissive of inspiration, saying that if he waited for the muse he would compose at most three songs a year. It was better to work every day. “Like the pugilist, the songwriter must always keep in training.”
Writing is really a way of thinking — not just feeling but thinking about things that are disparate, unresolved, mysterious, problematic or just sweet.
Vincent van Gogh
When in the grip of creative inspiration, he painted nonstop, “in a dumb fury of work.”
A word after a word after a word is power.
Writing is a job, a talent, but it’s also the place to go in your head. It is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon.
Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. … [Write] knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.
Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.
We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.
Writing is a process, a journey into memory and the soul.
Zora Neale Hurston
Perhaps it is just as well to be rash and foolish for a while. If writers were too wise, perhaps no books would get written at all. It might be better to ask yourself ‘Why?’ afterward than before. Anyway, the force of somewhere in space which commands you to write in the first place, gives you no choice. You take up the pen when you are told, and write what is commanded.”
And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
It didn’t occur to me that my books would be widely read at all, and that enabled me to write anything I wanted to. And even once I realized that they were being read, I still wrote as if I were writing in secret. That’s how one has to write anyway — in secret.
Octavia E. Butler
You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.
I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.
We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better.
The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.
Shortly after graduation from college, Franzen married his girlfriend, also an aspiring novelist, and the pair settled down to work in classic starving-artist fashion. They found an apartment outside Boston for $300 a month, stocked up on ten-pound bags of rice and enormous packages of frozen chicken, and allowed themselves to eat out only once a year, on their anniversary…five days a week, the couple wrote for eight hours a day, ate dinner, and then read for four or five more hours. “I was frantically driven,” Franzen said. “I got up after breakfast, sat down at the desk and worked till dark, basically.”
To force himself to concentrate on his 2001 novel, The Corrections, he would seal himself in his Harlem studio with the blinds drawn and the lights off, sitting before the computer keyboard wearing earplugs, earmuffs, and a blindfold. It still took him four years, and thousands of discarded pages, to complete the book. “I was in such a harmful pattern. In a way, it would begin on a Friday, when I would realize what I’d been working on all week was bad…between five and six, I’d get drunk on vodka—shot glasses. Then have dinner, much too late, consumed with a sick sense of failure. I hated myself the entire time.”
“Discipline is an ideal for the self. If you have to discipline yourself to achieve art, you discipline yourself. There’s no one way—there’s too much drivel about this subject. You’re who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe. You write by sitting down and writing. There’s no particular time or place—you suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he’s disciplined, doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. The trick is to make time—not steal it—and produce the fiction. If the stories come, you get them written, you’re on the right track. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.”
Pytor Ilich Tchaikovsky
The seed of a future composition usually reveals itself suddenly, in the most unexpected fashion. If the soil is favourable, that is, if I am in the mood for work, this seed takes root with inconceivable strength and speed, bursts through the soil, puts out roots, leaves, twigs, and finally flowers: I cannot define the creative process except through this metaphor…it would be futile for me to try and express to you in words the boundless bliss of that feeling which envelops you when it begins to take definite forms. You forget everything, you are almost insane, everything inside you trembles and writhes, you scarcely manage to set down sketches, one idea presses upon another.
Stephen Jay Gould
“I work all the time…I work every day. I work weekends, I work nights…some people looking at that from the outside might use that modern term “workaholic,” or might see this as obsessive or destructive. But it’s not work to me, it’s just what I do, that’s my life. I also spend a lot of time with my family, and I sing, and go to ball games…I don’t have a one-dimensional life. But I basically do work all the time. I don’t watch television. But it’s not work, it’s not work, it’s my life. It’s what I do. It’s what I like to do…you have to have high levels of bodily energy and not everybody has it. I’m not physically strong, but I have very great intellectual energy, I always have…I can literally sit and work all day once I get going, not everybody can do that. It’s not a moral issue. Some people seem to see that as a moral question. It isn’t. It’s a question of body type and temperament and energy levels. I don’t know what makes us what we are.”
Alexander Graham Bell
When in the throes of a new idea, he pleaded with his wife to let him be free of family obligations; sometimes, in these states, he would work for up to twenty-two hours straight without sleep. (His wife) eventually accepted his relentless focus on his work, but not without some resentment. She wrote to him in 1888, “I wonder do you think of me in the midst of that work of yours of which I am so proud and yet so jealous, for I know it has stolen from me part of my husband’s heart, for where his thoughts and interests lie, there must his heart be.”
The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind…(and) physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.” (He discovered that the sedentary lifestyle caused him to gain weight rapidly…he soon resolved to change his habits completely, moving with his wife to a rural area, quitting smoking, drinking less, and eating a diet of mostly vegetables and fish. He also started running daily. The one drawback to this self-made schedule, Murakami admitted in a 2008 essay, is that it doesn’t allow for much of a social life…but he decided that the indispensable relationship in his life was with his readers. “My readers would welcome whatever lifestyle I chose, as long as I made sure each new work was an improvement over the last. And shouldn’t that be my duty—my top priority—as a novelist?”