When you show up for your work, your work shows up for you

In their classic book on making art (or avoiding the process), Art & Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland outline the merits of using your work as a litmus test for your commitment:

Look at your work and it tells you how it is when you hold back or when you embrace. When you are lazy, your art is lazy; when you hold back, it holds back; when you hesitate, it stands there staring, hands in its pockets. But when you commit, it comes on like blazes.

How are you holding back or embracing your work at the moment? How can you increase your commitment to your project, or accept that you’re flogging a dead horse?

It hurts to be present

Humans tend to favour analogical reasoning—we regularly look for the similarities between two or more unlike things or systems (compare reasoning from first principles). But when is relying on analogy a problem, and does doing so prevent us from living in the moment and engaging deeply with our writing?

In Rob Walker’s new book, which is full of strategies for paying attention, he quotes the poet Marie Howe: “It hurts to be present.” He explains that line more fully in a recent episode of Hurry Slowly, when he refers to making “metaphor-free observations.”

Rob believes that inexperienced writers use metaphor as “a distancing act.” But, he says,

to be truly present requires punching through these kinds of distancing techniques that we use as a matter of course, and be really in touch with what’s actually there.

We know that being present (or mindful) can result in more happiness, connection, innovation, and productivity. But being present is not always easy, and can expose us to uncomfortable truths—that’s why it hurts. Continue reading “It hurts to be present”

Which narrator will you use?

Michael Pollan gives a masterclass in selecting a narrative voice in the most recent episode of the Longform podcast.

You have to reconstruct your first person [narrative] every book…. Your personality has so many elements, and you don’t use all of them. You pick a few…. Some facts about you are irrelevant to that story…. You have to take out of the whole grab bag of what you are….and you cobble together a first person that consists of several of them…. They’re all true, but you get to choose…. Are you going to write in the first person or not? … Which first person?

How to Write More

  1. Take your work seriously.
  2. Don’t take yourself seriously.
  3. Set a deadline and stick to it—don’t project-manage yourself into procrastination.
  4. Make a list of resources to consult and small tasks to complete—create a checklist and work through it.
  5. Block off time—it’s yours to block off.
  6. Get a writing buddy or join a writing group—accountability drives productivity.
  7. Read more—all the time, read everything.
  8. Carry a notebook at all times, use voice memos, email yourself, keep a Google doc open—you have resources at hand, use them.
  9. Count your words and pages every day—words are bricks, words build the foundation.
  10. Visualize the full page, not the full manuscript—a castle without a foundation will crumble.