Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too. You’re scrambling to learn something very quickly, being a detective, figuring out who the people are, dissecting the social structure of the community you’re writing about. It’s like trying to write a song, making tiny tweaks, reading it out loud, shifting things to make it sound a certain way. Sometimes it feels like digging out of a hole, but sometimes it feels like flying.
The energy of it is so intense and internal, it sometimes makes you feel like you’re going to crumple. When you’re sitting at your desk, it looks like you’re just sitting there, doing nothing. There’s a marvelous sense of mastery that comes with writing a sentence that sounds exactly as you want it to. I jiggle my feet a lot, get up a lot, tap my fingers on the keyboard, check my e-mail.
Because lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it. As Cheryl Strayed put it in her timelessly revisitable meditation on life, Ultimately, Shapiro seconds this sentiment by returning to the notion of presence and the art of looking as the centripetal force that summons the scattered fragments of our daily experience into our cumulative muse — a testament to the combinatorial nature of creativity, reassuring us that no bit of life is “useless” and reminding us of the vital importance of what Stephen King has termed the art of “creative sleep”.
And that emotional waiver is why this is your work and not your hobby. Shapiro writes: If I dismiss the ordinary — waiting for the special, the extreme, the extraordinary to happen — I may just miss my life.
Prolific novelist Isabel Allende shares in Kurt Vonnegut’s insistence on rooting storytelling in personal experience and writes: I need to tell a story. Each story is a seed inside of me that starts to grow and grow, like a tumor, and I have to deal with it sooner or later. But I don’t find myself thinking, “I can’t write about that because it won’t sell.” It’s such a pain in the ass to write a book, I can’t imagine writing one if I’m not interested in the subject.
And disappointed — because I have a sort of idea that isn’t really an idea. If she doesn’t show up invited, eventually she just shows up. Emotionally, it puts you in the place that everybody dreads. You can’t give in to your natural impulse to run away from situations and people you don’t know. When it’s working and the rhythm’s there, it does feel like magic to me. There’s no hole inside me to fill or anything like that, but once I started doing it, I couldn’t imagine wanting to do anything else for a living.), edited by Behance’s 99U editor-in-chief Jocelyn Glei and featuring contributions from a twenty of today’s most celebrated thinkers and doers, delves into the secrets of this holy grail of creativity.Reflecting Thomas Edison’s oft-cited proclamation that — since true aspiration produces effort that feels gratifying rather than merely grueling, enhancing the grit of perspiration with the gift of gratification.) One of the book’s strongest insights comes from Gretchen Rubin — author of We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period, provided we work slowly and consistently.Anthony Trollope, the nineteenth-century writer who managed to be a prolific novelist while also revolutionizing the British postal system, observed, “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.” Over the long run, the unglamorous habit of frequency fosters both productivity and creativity.Frequency, she argues, helps facilitate what Arthur Koestler has famously termed “bisociation” — the crucial ability to link the seemingly unlinkable, which is the defining characteristic of the creative mind.Those are the best moments, when I’ve got the whale on the line, when I see exactly what it is I’ve got to do. It never goes quite like you think, but that moment is a touchstone, a place to come back to.It gives you a kind of compass to guide you through the story. Sometimes you don’t understand the misery it will lead to, but it’s always been right to feel it. Sample more of this indispensable compendium here, here, here, and here.Still, surely there must be more to it than that — whole worlds rise and fall, entire universes blossom and die daily in that enchanted space between the writer’s sensation of writing and the word’s destiny of being written on a page. To be disciplined, and at the same time, take risks. Fail better.” It requires what the great editor Ted Solotoroff once called In other words, it requires grit — that the science of which earned psychologist Angela Duckworth her recent Mac Arthur “genius” grant and the everyday art of which earns actual geniuses their status. […] To allow ourselves to spend afternoons watching dancers rehearse, or sit on a stone wall and watch the sunset, or spend the whole weekend rereading Chekhov stories—to know that we are doing what we’re supposed to be doing — is the deepest form of permission in our creative lives. We research a little known piece of history obsessively. We don’t know why, and yet these moments form the source from which all our words will spring.For all that’s been mulled about the writing life and its perpetual osmosis of everyday triumphs and tragedies, its existential feats and failures, at its heart remains an immutable mystery — how can a calling be at once so transcendent and so soul-crushing, and what is it that enthralls so many souls into its paradoxical grip, into feeling compelled to write “not because they can but because they have to”? The writing life requires courage, patience, persistence, empathy, openness, and the ability to deal with rejection. To be willing to fail — not just once, but again and again, over the course of a lifetime. Writing is also, as Shapiro poetically puts it, a way “to forge a path out of [our] own personal wilderness with words” — a way to both exercise and exorcise our most fundamental insecurities and to practice what Rilke so memorably termed living the questions, the sort of “negative capability” of embracing uncertainty that Keats thought was so fundamental to the creative process. You come face-to-face with your own resistance, lack of balance, self-loathing, and insatiable ego—and also with your singular vision, guts, and fortitude. The British author and psychologist Adam Phillips has noted, “When we are inspired, rather like when we are in love, we can feel both unintelligible to ourselves and most truly ourselves.” This is the feeling I think we all yearn for, a kind of hyperreal dream state. Originally featured in October — sample it further with Shapiro’s meditation on the perils of plans.You see yourself do the work, which shows you that you can do the work.Progress is reassuring and inspiring; panic and then despair set in when you find yourself getting nothing done day after day.