There is no evidence that setting up your easel like Van Gogh makes you paint better. But strategies are universal, and there are a lot of talented folks who are not succeeding the way they want to because their strategies are broken. The strategy is to have a practice, and what it means to have a practice is to regularly and reliably do the work in a habitual way.There are many ways you can signify to yourself that you are doing your practice.
For Charles Bukowski, it sprang from the soul like a rocket. Every year on January seventh, I prepare my physical space. I just leave my dictionaries, and my first editions, and the research materials for the new one. He said, “Do it another ten years, you can be a writer.” But I looked around at the people on Wall Street who were ten years older than me, and I didn’t see anyone who could have left. […] I used to get the total immersion feeling by writing at midnight.
Joy Williams found in it a gateway from the darkness to the light. From those seventeen steps on, I am in another world and I am another person. When it comes to nonfiction, it’s important to note the very significant difference between the two stages of the work. So it did appear to be financial suicide when I quit my job at Salomon Brothers — where I’d been working for a couple of years, and where I’d just gotten a bonus of $225,000, which they promised they’d double the following year—to take a $40,000 book advance for a book that took a year and a half to write. I was twenty-seven years old, and they were throwing all this money at me, and it was going to be an easy career. It’s very hard to preserve the quality in a kid that makes him jump out of a high-paying job to go write a book. I noticed very quickly that writing was the only way for me to lose track of the time.
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.
[…] Creativity arises from a constant churn of ideas, and one of the easiest ways to encourage that fertile froth is to keep your mind engaged with your project.
When you work regularly, inspiration strikes regularly. That’s why practices such as daily writing exercises or keeping a daily blog can be so helpful.
Rubin writes: You’re much more likely to spot surprising relationships and to see fresh connections among ideas, if your mind is constantly humming with issues related to your work.
When I’m deep in a project, everything I experience seems to relate to it in a way that’s absolutely exhilarating. That’s critical, because I have a voracious need for material, and as I become hyperaware of potential fodder, ideas pour in.
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.