Tuesday, January 1, 2013

How to Keep Going: Inspiration for Writers

With all the bad news about publishing, writing, the economy, the Boston Red Sox, the New York Giants -- how do you keep going? Here's some inspiration that covers writing, the creative process, and motivation. Warning to atheists: Many of these writings describe creativity using terms such as channeling, higher power, and the gods.


I borrowed most of the following books from my local library. If you're low on cash, you can, too. Many are pretty short. Some of the longer ones are quick reads because they're hard to put down. And one wasn't worth finishing but I enjoyed the first two thirds.

"The Writing Life" by Annie Dillard
All about the process, the frustrations, the blind alleys, cutting your favorite passages, writing for days and coming up with only a few useable sentences -- and then having to toss them. 
Read the first two pages here.

"The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life" by Twyla Tharp
Though Tharp is famous as a dance choreographer, she offers practical advice on how to get the muse going: routine, routine, routine.

"Do the Work" and "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield
I read them both and liked the former better. My personal favorite is a passage called "Start Before Your Ready." In other words, don't waste a lot of time researching and preparing -- make sure the pool is deep enough, and then jump in head first. Read a passage on this Amazon link. (Note to readers in Acton, Mass.: I borrowed the book several months ago, lost it, and now have to pay the library $13. There are still a few other copies available.)

"On Writing" by Stephen King
The beginning offers some interesting bio information on how he King got started and his struggles. He's another guy who wrote and wrote, until he got a break. The middle third offered some useful tips. The last third of the book is a memoir about his motorcycle accident; it bored me and I didn't finish it.

Web Sites and Links

Free and just a click away. To read, the New York Times article, "How to Write," you may have to register. Sorry.

"If at First You Don't Succeed, You're in Excellent Company"
This Wall Street Journal article trots out a lot of the usual suspects -- Michael Jordan, Dr. Seuss, Julie Andrews, Winston Churchill -- but I found it moving and cut it out to hang near my desk. (Yes, I'm a corny, sentimental guy.)

"10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won't Tell You"
A book excerpt published in the Wall Street Journal. Some great, quirky advice. My personal favorite:
"Read obituaries. They are just like biographies, only shorter. They remind us that interesting, successful people rarely lead orderly, linear lives."

"How to Write"
Eleven rules from writer Colson Whitehead. Not that useful but an amusing read. My personal favorite rule: "Have adventures.... Get out and see the world. It’s not going to kill you to butch it up a tad. Book passage on a tramp steamer. Rustle up some dysentery; it’s worth it for the fever dreams alone. Lose a kidney in a knife fight. You’ll be glad you did."

Brain Pickings
This Web site includes a slew of motivational articles and images for writers, artists, and anyone else who needs go out and kick some ass. My recent favorite: The Holstee Manifesto
Here's a quote for us single people gutting it out through the holidays: "If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love.”

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Art attribution for liquid courage image:  By Dirk Van Esbroeck (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons