via Delancey Place:
“In this age of information abundance and overload, those who get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to leave out, so they can concentrate on what’s really important to them. Nothing is more paralyzing than the idea of limitless possibilities. The idea that you can do anything is absolutely terrifying.
“The way to get over creative block is to simply place some constraints on yourself. It seems contradictory, but when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom. Write a song on your lunch break. Paint a painting with only one color. Start a business without any start-up capital. Shoot a movie with your iPhone and a few of your friends. Build a machine out of spare parts. Don’t make excuses for not working — make things with the time, space, and materials you have, right now.
“The right constraints can lead to your very best work. My favorite example? Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat with only 236 different words, so his editor bet him he couldn’t write a book with only 50 different words. Dr. Seuss came back and won the bet with Green Eggs and Ham, one of the bestselling children’s books of all time.”
‘Telling yourself you have all the time
in the world, all the money in the world,
all the colors in the palette, anything
you want — that just kills creativity.’
—from Steal Like An Artist
“If what’s always distinguished bad writing–flat characters, a narrative world that’s clichéd and not recognizably human, etc.—is also a description of today’s world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world. If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then [Bret] Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything. Look man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.
Postmodern irony and cynicism’s become an end in itself, a measure of hip sophistication and literary savvy. Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what’s wrong, because they’ll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists. Irony’s gone from liberating to enslaving. There’s some great essay somewhere that has a line about irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage… The postmodern founders’ patricidal work was great, but patricide produces orphans, and no amount of revelry can make up for the fact that writers my age have been literary orphans throughout our formative years.
We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self. Once we’ve hit this age, we will now give or take anything, wear any mask, to fit, be part-of, not be Alone, we young. The U.S. arts are our guide to inclusion. A how-to. We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assume the shape of whatever it wears. And then it’s stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated naïveté. Sentiment equals naïveté on this continent.
You burn with hunger for food that does not exist.”
—David Foster Wallace
“She herself was a victim of that lust for books which rages in the breast like a demon, and which cannot be stilled save by the frequent and plentiful acquisition of books. This passion is more common, and more powerful, than most people suppose. Book lovers are thought by unbookish people to be gentle and unworldly, and perhaps a few of them are so. But there are others who will lie and scheme and steal to get books as wildly and unconscionably as the dope-taker in pursuit of his drug. They may not want to read the books immediately, or at all; they want them to possess, to range on their shelves, to have at command. They want books as a Turk is thought to want concubines–not to be hastily deflowered, but to be kept at their master’s call, and enjoyed more often in thought than in reality.”
from “On Beauty: Sonnet L’Abbé”
Poetic reverie is a cosmic reverie. It is an opening to a beautiful world, to beautiful worlds. It gives the I a non-I which belongs to the I: my non-I. It is this “my non-I” which enchants the I of the dreamer and which poets can help us share. For my “I-dreamer,” it is this “my non-I” which lets me live my secret of being in the world.”
found in The Poetics of Reverie
“My own belief is that one regards oneself, if one is a serious writer, as an instrument for experiencing. Life–all of it–flows through this instrument and is distilled through it into works of art. How one lives as a private person is intimately bound into the work. And at some point, I believe one has to stop holding back for fear of alienating some imaginary reader or real relative or friend, and come out with personal truth. If we are to understand the human condition, and if we are to accept ourselves in all the complexity, self-doubt, extravagance of feeling, guilt, joy, the slow freeing of the self to its full capacity for action and creation, both as human being and artist, we have to know all we can about one another, and we have to be willing to go naked.”
from Journal of a Solitude
“Writer’s block — or, maybe more accurately, a writer’s expressive frustration — has many presenting symptoms and many causes, but it is at root language-related. Versions of creative stasis may afflict those who practice in other fields — painters and composers can find themselves short of ideas or inspiration — but the situation is not quite the same. Certainly we never hear anything comparable affecting statesmen, lawyers, coaches, electricians or pastry chefs. This affliction afflicts self-anointed users of language, writers, and because their medium of choice — or compulsion — happens to be the universal medium of consciousness and communication, it takes on a metaphysical inflection. If language is the distinctive human feature, its single greatest evolutionary feat, then writers are in a most privileged and vulnerable situation. In the movement from ape to apex, the engaged — successful — use of language, literary expression, represents the latter. It follows then that a frustration or failure in its use must be seen as something more sweepingly indicative as well. The fact that any true success is rare and difficult is not consoling to the person who is failing in the attempt.
Reason naturally persuades otherwise, but for many of us the deeper superstitions rule. Though the writer may believe that the finest productivity is fickle and cannot be willed, arriving on its terms, not his, he might still blame himself for productive lack. For he has the idea — I do, certainly — that inspiration has something to do with being in the right relation to things, and if arrival of words is out of his control, the achievement of that relation is not. If he has not made himself a worthy vessel, he has in the largest sense failed. Call it complete and utter nonsense, but when it eludes you — the tone, or the feeling of surprise, the current you can feel when the circuit is complete — when you know what that’s like and don’t have it — then such repudiation is useless. The psyche is irrational.”
from “The Pump You Pump the Water From”
“The great thing about the arts is that the only way you learn how to do it is by doing it. If a child learns nothing but that as a guide to life, that’s invaluable. You can’t learn to play the piano without playing the piano, you can’t learn to write without writing, and, in many ways, you can’t learn to think without thinking. Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.”
found in “The Title Always Comes Last”
The chance of my acquisition of a damaged book is a puzzle I solve about my own inclinations. It is an opportunity to transcend myself, and in so doing, rediscover old loves, follow new threads of interest. Something about the partial erasure of information by damage in the form of time and or physical destruction acts as catalyst for this process which then becomes the ground for writing. For me, the reading and translating is only the first step and the research that I do is all for ambiance, not accuracy. In The Nature of Fire, I enjoyed the personality of de Beausobre; a little fey, a little pompous, and from a later century’s scientific point of view, sometimes laughable. Still, there is such heart beneath the science, and he takes such obvious delight in his own intellectual understanding. Reading science or criticism (which also purports to be logical, in the vein of scientific method) and using them as inspiration for writing confirm Adorno’s dictum: Art is magic liberated from the lie of having to be true. But what really quickens my interest is how I will use the totality of the book: the personality of the author, the particular language of place and time, the look of the page, the nicks, scratches, torn corners, battered covers; the missing pages. Lacunae: what might have been as important as what is, lost alchemical texts we must re-create.
All books are damaged, in that they are partial; fragments of life that we choose.
Creation comes from damage. Each of us puts together a new and different whole from the pieces of the world. Not “picking up the pieces,” but selecting the fragments, the particles, the way they look in the afternoon light, on the desk, or on the edge of sleep, falling open.
–from “The Book, The Leaf, The Skive of the Cover: Why I Love Damaged Books” by Carol Ciavonne
found in Pleiades 31.1
True essayists rarely write novels. Essayists are a species of metaphysician: they’re inquisitive and analytic about the least grain of being. Novelists go about the strenuous business of marrying and burying their people, or else they send them to sea or to Africa or at least out of town. Essayists in their stillness ponder love and death. Only inner space–interesting, active, significant–can conceive the contemplative essay. Essays, unlike novels, emerge from the sensations of the self. Fiction creeps into foreign bodies: the novelist can inhabit not only a sex not his own but also beetles and noses and hunger artists and nomads and beasts. The essay is personal.
–from “Introduction” by Cynthia Ozick
found in Best American Essays: 1998
With the publication of Comment j’ai écrit certains de mes livres (How I wrote certain of my books), Raymond Roussel posthumously revealed the secret of his idiosyncratic method of writing. He would compose many of his fantastical stories by creatively connecting two different meanings of the same word, or two different words spelled nearly the same, in clandestine, virtuosic acts of metonymy. He describes this as “essentially a poetic method.” As strange as his procedure may at first seem in terms of writing, I think we all do something like this when we read, especially when we love to read; we allow one thing we’re reading to suggest something else to read and find delight in the surprises and correspondences generated between the texts along the way.
–from “Dining with Proust” by Jeffrey Lependorf
found in A Public Space, issue 12, 2011