The Importance of PithPosted: January 24, 2013 Filed under: Online Community | Tags: Anne Lamott, aphorisms, Austin Kleon, Bird by Bird, Brenda Ueland, Carolyn See, Making a Literary Life, Steal like an Artist 11 Comments
There’s something about the term itself—Literary Citizenship—that seems to get through to writers (old or young), makes a lightbulb go off over their head.
I know it had that effect on me in 2008 the first time I heard it.
And that’s important.
As self-helpy as it sounds, becoming a writer is about figuring out what makes your lightbulb go off, finding the quotes or concepts to write on your 3×5 cards and pin above your writing desk.
Raymond Carver said:
I have some three-by-five cards on the wall now. ‘Fundamental accuracy of statement is the one sole morality of writing.’ Ezra Pound….I have a three-by-five card up there with this fragment of a sentence from a story by Chekhov: ‘…and suddenly everything became clear to him.’ I find these words filled with wonder and possibility.
What aphorisms or maxims or quotations have helped you the most? Do you keep them in your head, scrawled on the wall, post-it-noted to your laptop?
Tell me about them.
Here’s the reason I’m asking.
Tonight in my Literary Citizenship class, we’re discussing Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life and Austin Kleon’s Steal like an Artist.
Honestly, I don’t use this kind of book in my creative writing classes nearly as often as I should, the kind of book that starts a conversation about creativity, process, the writer’s life, etc.
Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and one of my favorites, Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write: A Book about Art Independence and Spirit.
I remember well the lessons of Bird by Bird.
- The one-inch picture frame.
- It’s okay to write a shitty first draft.
I remember well the lessons of If You Want to Write.
- Know that you have talent, are original, and have something important to say.
- Know that it is good to work. Work with love, and think of liking it when you do it. It’s is easy and interesting. It is a privilege. There is nothing hard about it but your anxious vanity and fear of failure.
Here are the aphorisms in Carolyn See’s, Making a Literary Life
- Keep it to yourself.
- What’s your material?
- A thousand words a day.
- Charming notes.
- Pretend to be a writer.
- Hang out with people who support your work.
- Do some magic.
- Make rejection a process.
Here are the aphorisms in Austin Kleon’s, Steal like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You about Being Creative
- Steal like an artist.
- Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.
- Write the book you want to read.
- Use your hands.
- Side projects and hobbies are important.
- The secret: do good work and share it with people.
- Geography is no longer our master.
- Be nice. The world is a small town.
- Be boring. It’s the only way to get work done.
- Creativity is subtraction.
Here’s one I use a lot, both in my teaching and my writing: “Only trouble is interesting.” Janet Burroway.
What are your favorites?
I constantly come back to an aphorism I got from Terry Davis: “Get up on the lip of the stage and dance.”
Oh Terry had some great ones. Thanks Eric!
“Writing = ass + chair” — Oliver Stone
James Baldwin: “People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become, and they pay for it simply: by the lives they lead.”
Don DeLillo: “The writer is the person who stands outside society, independent of affiliation and independent of influence. The writer is the man or woman who automatically takes a stance against his or her government. There are so many temptations for American writers to become part of the system and part of the structure that now, more than ever, we have to resist. American writers ought to stand and live in the margins, and be more dangerous. Writers in repressive societies are considered dangerous. That’s why so many of them are in jail.”
I kept those two quotes taped to my office wall until I worked up the nerve to quit my day job and write full time.
Good for you, Jon Sealy! Good for you!
If you want to get rich from writing, write the sort of things that‘s read by persons who move their lips when they‘re reading to themselves. — Don Marquis
Maybe that’s true. Does that quote *inspire* you, though? It’s kinda depressing. No, it’s cynical. Right?
“A writer’s hand is no better than a ploughman’s.” — Arthur Rimbaud
For those days you need to be taken down a notch, or else, just need the reminder that you are free to work as you wish in anonymity.
I read somewhere that Philip Roth had a sign taped over his desk that said “Stay put.” That has helped me.