Archives for Writing
How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.― Benjamin Disraeli How are you at taking criticism? I’ve gotten pretty good at it. If you’re going to put yourself in the public eye, you have to take your lumps. I usually let rotten tomatoes land where they will. Readers often have unpleasant things to say to those of us with the audacity to put our thoughts in print. I’ve been called names, been accused of unspeakable acts, had my fitness for my job questioned. I hardly even consider that kind of thing criticism. Most of the time, it’s just people flapping their gums. I can imagine their red-faced sputtering and I hope they can imagine my eyes rolling. Those rotten tomatoes miss me by a mile. (I’ve also noticed that when someone agrees with something I’ve written, it’s because the idea is good and great minds think alike. When someone disagrees, it’s because, obviously, I’m an idiot.)
Do what you love and the money will follow. This one annoys me. It sounds so simple, so skipping through the daisies with dollar signs dancing around you like butterflies. It sounds like magical thinking to me. Here’s another way to look at it: Do what you love for money and it might become just another job. Easy for me to say, maybe. I write for a living and love what I do. But lemme tell you, dollar signs are not flittering around me and landing on my shoulders. Every dollar I earn is dragged in kicking and screaming. Writing is my second career. My first was as a graphic artist. As a child, I loved drawing and making things. I attended the marvelous High School of Art & Design in New York City. (Think Fame for aspiring commercial artists.) My first few jobs, straight out of high school, were in the art department of various publications. I started as a lackey but learned the trade and eventually became a designer. Not great, but competent. But much as I loved publishing, in time, meeting the demands of the job and my bosses sucked a lot of the joy out of art and design for me.
My good enough is great. This very excellent quote comes from the friend mentioned in my last post, who wondered why she shouldn’t strive for perfection. She and a friend of hers came up with the above saying, which she posted over her desk. This friend struggles with procrastination, a common symptom of perfectionism. And so she is having to learn to let go of her fear of falling short of perfect and to trust her own talent, which is prodigious. Like the previously discussed Voltaire quote, you could interpret this quote as aspiring to mediocrity, eh…good enough is good enough. And if you’re a lazybones (and you know who you are) then maybe it is aiming low. But genuine half-assery tells eventually. I am assuming you are hard working and have high standards for yourself.
The best is the enemy of the good—Voltaire(ish) This aphorism, translated from French, is attributed to Voltaire who actually attributed it to “A wise Italian” in a long satirical poem about a beautiful and pampered woman who takes a lover because she's bored. It’s also been translated as “Perfect is the enemy of the good.” A friend finds this quote mildly offensive because it seems to endorse mediocrity. I see her point. “Good” doesn’t exactly sound like high praise. “How was the movie?” “It was good.” “How’s your dinner?” “It’s good.” “Great!” and “delicious!” sound much better. (With exclamation points, of course.) In part, what we have here is adjective inflation. When so many things are “amazing” and “awesome,” plain old “good” sounds awfully meh.
You own everything that happened to you. – Anne Lamott Lamott first said this in her fabulous book about the writer's life, Bird by Bird. She then elaborated in a tweet, which read, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should've behaved better.” Haha. And cool. As a writer, I love this, even though it’s easier said than done. I saw writer Melissa Bank speak a number of years ago, and one thing she said that stuck with me is that if you’re going to write about people you know, you have to be prepared to lose them from your life. Even if you write fiction, people are likely to parse everything you write for whiffs of autobiography, which is annoying. “I write fiction, not crypto-autobiography,” John Cheever once said. But I am oddly grateful for the permission Lamott grants writers in her tweet. If it happened to you it is yours to tell and the courageous writer will do so when a story needs to be told, for whatever reason. But there’s something appealing about the shorter quote, too, in a different way.
It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not. -- Denis Waitley This one twangs me in all the right ways. One of the hurdles to becoming a writer is identifying yourself as a writer. “I’m a writer.” It sounds so pretentious. But until you can identify yourself as a writer, you’re just a hobbyist. A dabbler. A person with a day job who writes for fun. (Or frustration. Or both. That’s the writing life.) But the moment you own your ambition and say, “I’m a writer,” you become a writer with a day job. And the moment you take yourself seriously enough to call yourself a writer, you are going to take the writing more seriously in order to live up to the title. And when you start taking the work seriously, rewards are more likely to follow.
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. – Leo Tolstoy What do you think…true or false? Believe me, I am not out to dis Tolstoy. Anna Karenina is one of my all-time favorite books and I reread it every few years. But this famous quote…I don’t know. I’m not sure I buy it. To say that all happy families are alike is to say that all families are alike and goodness knows that’s not true. Today, of course, “family” varies widely: two-parent families, single-parent families, same-sex couple families, families created from the detritus of broken families. But even in Tolstoy’s day all families weren’t alike. Some families were wealthy, some were dirt poor. Some included one child, some included 12. Some families were happy despite hardship, some were happy in luxury. I guess what bums me out about this quote is the way it seems to trivialize happiness. Happy, shmappy—only unhappy is really interesting.
You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. -- Jack London Violent imagery, perhaps, but consider the source. Still, it’s the kind of kick in the pants that anyone who aspires to creativity needs. Not that you want to drag your inspiration in bruised and bleeding. A fine mess that would make when you try to turn it into something of beauty. Trying to pound a half-baked idea into something substantive rarely works. One thing I tell people who think they want to write a book: You better be damn sure that you are genuinely interested in the idea, because you will be spending a lot of time with it. If you have an idea that interests you only insofar as you think it will make you money, there’s a mighty good chance you’ll run out of steam at the long, grueling stretch in the middle. Inspiration can’t be forced, but it sometimes does need to be chased and tamed—maybe not with a club but perhaps with a Nerf bat. But first, you need to figure out where your best inspiration hunting is.