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Anne Lamott’s Timeless Advice on Writing and Why Perfectionism Kills Creativity

Anne Lamott’s Timeless Advice on Writing and Why Perfectionism Kills Creativity
by Maria Popova “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.” Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (public library) is among my 10 favorite books on writing — a treasure trove of insight both practical and profound, timelessly revisitable and yielding deeper resonance each time. Lamott adds to the collected wisdom of great writers with equal parts candor and conviction, teaching us as much about writing as she does about creativity at large and, even beyond that, about being human and living a full life — because, after all, as Lamott notes in the beginning, writing is nothing more nor less than a sensemaking mechanism for life: One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. I started writing when I was seven or eight. I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. But, one might wonder, why? Related:  WritingAbout WritingPancho & MIRA

Writer as Coder: The Iterative Way to Write a Book By Leo Babauta The traditional way of writing a book is like the old Microsoft model of developing software: you write it in isolation for a year or two, and then put it out as a fully-formed product. The problem with that method is that it’s never been tested in the real world. You don’t know if readers (or users) will want it, you don’t know where you’ve made huge mistakes, you don’t know how it will work in the wild. That “Microsoft” model of making programs has been replaced in the last decade or so by iterative programming, where you make a Minimum Viable Product as soon as possible, and let a small group of people (alpha or beta testers) use it and give you feedback and report bugs. Unfortunately, we authors are still stuck in the Microsoft model when we’re writing a non-fiction book. There’s no reason for that, so I used the iterative software model when I wrote my new book, “Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change“. The process is one of the best things I’ve ever done as a writer.

The Workhorse and the Butterfly: Ann Patchett on Writing and Why Self-Forgiveness Is the Most Important Ingredient of Great Art by Maria Popova “The ability to forgive oneself … is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life.” “All makers must leave room for the acts of the spirit,” Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in her lucid and luminous essay on where ideas come from and the “secret” of writing. In her magnificent memoir-of-sorts This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage (public library), novelist Ann Patchett offers one of creative history’s finest and most convincing counterpoints to this myth. Ann Patchett by Heidi Ross She writes in the introduction: The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living. In my mind, fiction and nonfiction stayed so far away from each other that for years I would have maintained they had no more a relationship than fiction and waitressing. Illustration from 'Inside the Rainbow: Beautiful Books, Terrible Times.' Forgiveness. Donating = Loving

Shorter Really Is Sweeter – If you’ve been trying to write picture books, you’ve probably heard that they ought to be short: 800 words, 600 words, 500 words. Or even LESS. This can seem scary. But it can be done without sacrificing plot or story. In fact, many pre-published manuscripts I see could lose 200 words and be better for it. The keys are: Paring your story to its essence. One book that does these things frighteningly well is ZOMBIE IN LOVE, by Kelly DiPucchio. Here’s how: You immediately know what it’s about. Readers know what the problem is the first three words. From there, every scene in the story shows Mortimer pursuing his goal of finding a sweetheart. Through all this, notice what’s not there. There’s also no unnecessary detail. Its pictures are worth … well, you know. The illustrations say a lot in this book. And in one of my favorite spreads, DiPucchio simply says: “Mortimer smiled. Each word has earned its way into the manuscript. Some people think writing short means you can’t show any personality.

What I’ve Learned as a Writer By Leo Babauta I’ve been a professional writer since I was 17: so nearly 24 years now. I’ve made my living with words, and have written a lot of them — more than 10 million (though many of them were duplicates). That means I’ve made a ton of errors. Lots of typos. Lots of bad writing. Being a writer means I’ve failed a lot, and learned a few things in the process. Now, some of you may be aspiring writers (or writers looking for inspiration from a colleague). So for anyone interested in writing, I’d love to share what I’ve learned so far. Write every damn day. And one thing I’ve learned, above all, is this: the life that my writing has changed more than any other is my own.

The Psychology of Writing and the Cognitive Science of the Perfect Daily Routine Reflecting on the ritualization of creativity, Bukowski famously scoffed that “air and light and time and space have nothing to do with.” Samuel Johnson similarly contended that “a man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.” And yet some of history’s most successful and prolific writers were women and men of religious daily routines and odd creative rituals. (Even Buk himself ended up sticking to a peculiar daily routine.) Such strategies, it turns out, may be psychologically sound and cognitively fruitful. [There is] evidence that environments, schedules, and rituals restructure the writing process and amplify performance… The principles of memory retrieval suggest that certain practices should amplify performance. Kellogg reviews a vast body of research to extract a few notable findings. The lack of interruption in trains of thought may be the critical ingredient in an environment that enables creative flow.

How to Become a Children’s Author | Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) If you want to publish a book for children, the first thing you must do is ask yourself why. Is your motivation to publish a kid’s book one of the following? Your kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews/neighbors/students love a story you’ve written.It would be fun to see your name in print.You want to sign autographs.You want to make money, quickly.You want your artist cousin/sister/friend to illustrate it. If you answered “yes” to any of the above, please read this post. I write this to save you a lot of time and frustration. New writers often believe they can pen one story in an hour or two, never revise it, yet somehow land an agent and a publishing deal—-as if the simple act of writing begets publication. Hitting one baseball does not mean the Yankees will draft you. Everyone believes the first thing they write will be golden and they’ll never receive a single rejection. The motivation to write a children’s book should be: You love to write. Notice fame and fortune have nothing to do with it.

Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing By Maria Popova In the winter of 2010, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of writing published in The New York Times nearly a decade earlier, The Guardian reached out to some of today’s most celebrated authors and asked them to each offer his or her commandments. After Zadie Smith’s 10 rules of writing, here come 8 from the one and only Neil Gaiman: WritePut one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.Put it aside. For more timeless wisdom on writing, see Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 rules for a great story, David Ogilvy’s 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller’s 11 commandments, Jack Kerouac’s 30 beliefs and techniques, John Steinbeck’s 6 pointers, and Susan Sontag’s synthesized learnings. Image by Kimberly Butler

David Foster Wallace on Writing, Self-Improvement, and How We Become Who We Are by Maria Popova “Good writing isn’t a science. It’s an art, and the horizon is infinite. In late 1999, David Foster Wallace — poignant contemplator of death and redemption, tragic prophet of the meaning of life, champion of intelligent entertainment, admonisher against blind ambition, advocate of true leadership — called the office of the prolific writer-about-writing Bryan A. Over the course of the exchange, the two struck up a friendship and began an ongoing correspondence, culminating in Garner’s extensive interview with Wallace, conducted on February 3, 2006, in Los Angeles — the kind of conversation that reveals as much about its subject matter, in this case writing and language, as it does about the inner workings of its subject’s psyche. Wallace begins at the beginning, responding to Garner’s request to define good writing: In the broadest possible sense, writing well means to communicate clearly and interestingly and in a way that feels alive to the reader. Donating = Loving

why there’s no such thing as children’s books “I don’t believe that I have ever written a children’s book,” Maurice Sendak once said. “I don’t write for children. I write–and somebody says, ‘That’s for children!’” Madeleine L’Engle said, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” What are they getting at? There is a disturbing, patronizing dumbing down that happens in so many bad children’s books. People often think it’s easy to write a picture book. Why do we think it’s easy to write for children? Astrid Lindgren said: “I don’t want to write for adults. Only a high view of children and a deep respect for them will produce work worthy of them. Roald Dahl, who wrote novels for adults at the start of his career, said: “I’m probably more pleased with my children’s books than with my adult short stories. And of course, the same is true of the children who read them.

How to start your day with more creativity, serenity, and insight Each morning our return to waking life is marked by a unique mental state. In those first minutes of our day, our minds are in an estuary between the dream world and 3rd dimensional consciousness. Like an aquatic estuary, it’s ripe with nutrients and lifeforms that you can’t find anywhere else. This in-between state of the mind can be used for greater creativity, serenity, and flow. For many years I squandered these golden minutes. Like an engine, or a muscle group, your mind runs a lot smoother if it’s allowed to gradually warm up. Inversely, going from sleep to mental sprinting can send the nervous system into Fight or Flight mode. Meditation has become quite popular in the business world for it’s ability to train the mind towards clarity of thought. Hypnotists do their work by getting subjects to enter lower frequency brain waves states. By paying attention while waking up, we can bridge the gap between waking life the creative unconscious. I started doing Morning Pages 292 days ago.

Vladimir Nabokov on Writing, Reading, and the Three Qualities a Great Storyteller Must Have by Maria Popova “Between the wolf in the tall grass and the wolf in the tall story there is a shimmering go-between. That go-between, that prism, is the art of literature.” “Often the object of a desire, when desire is transformed into hope, becomes more real than reality itself,” Umberto Eco observed in his magnificent atlas of imaginary places. In the same 1948 lecture that gave us Vladimir Nabokov’s 10 criteria for a good reader, found in his altogether fantastic Lectures on Literature (UK; public library), the celebrated author and sage of literature examines the heart of storytelling: Literature was born not the day when a boy crying wolf, wolf came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big gray wolf at his heels: literature was born on the day when a boy came crying wolf, wolf and there was no wolf behind him. Vladimir Nabokov by William Claxton, 1963 Literature is invention. Lectures on Literature is a wealth of wisdom in its entirety. Donating = Loving Share on Tumblr

Rate Your Story: Get the Drama Out of Your Life - And Into Your Writing The sky knows it's Wednesday... Outside my morning window, black clouds churn and thrash fat raindrops everywhere. Every few seconds, snapping flashes of white pierce the scene, followed by growls that shake from sky to ground in angry tantrums. The rattle reaches all the way to my coffee mug, causing the spoon to clink against the rim. It's dramatic. And don't we all love drama? Nature's dramatic shows, maybe. With this dramatic spirit, I enthusiastically welcome today's inspirational, creative, unique, and experimental author/illustrator with a drum roll........ ...Mira Reisberg, PhD (ba dooom-boom-ching!) Dramarama: Different Ways to Play with Plot By Mira Reisberg, PhD As most of you reading this know, the world of children’s book publishing has gotten more and more competitive. One of the things I encourage my students to do is to get the drama out of their lives and into their writing. Right off the bat we know there’s going to be trouble. Yours in creativity – Mira

Masters of Habit: The Wisdom and Writing of Maya Angelou Sadly, Maya Angelou, the great American author and poet, has passed away. She was known for her award-winning autobiographies as well as for her numerous plays, scripts, poems, and essays. Her most famous work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, has sold millions upon millions of copies. It holds the record for the longest-running nonfiction New York Times best-seller (2 years). And in 2011, Time Magazine named it one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923. Angelou is widely known as a voice for women, especially black women, and her works have courageously covered themes of identity, racism, and family. Maya Angelou’s Writing Routine As you may expect, Angelou’s creative genius didn’t expose itself without hard work. Here’s how she described her writing habits in 1983 interview with Claudia Tate (as covered in Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals), I usually get up at about 5:30, and I’m ready to have coffee by 6, usually with my husband. On identity…