In Praise of the Pencil

As a writer, but primarily as a procrastinator, I have experimented with many writing tools. I’ve read about the writing habits of famous writers, including their preferred writing instruments. Everyone knows that writers attach great importance to their writing tools and habits. Whether they write in the morning or evening, whether they write sitting up or lying down (Truman Capote could only write when he was “horizontal”), whether they compose on paper or a screen, it matters, greatly. The pencil seems the least remarkable of the writing tools we have at our disposal. A pencil is what a child is…

9 Books About Writing That All Aspiring Writers Will Love

“Writing itself is always bad enough, but writing about writing is surely worse, in the futility department.” — Margaret Atwood Why do some people write, when others do not? When a writer is hunched over his desk in an empty room, dreaming up stories that never happened and will never happen, why is he doing it? Why is writing her response to the world, to life? What is this peculiar compulsion to write about the world? Annie Dillard said that a shoe salesman is more useful than writers, because everyone needs shoes more. And it’s not as if writing is always so enjoyable,…

Cover Your Tracks: Annie Dillard on Why Much of What You Write Will (And Should) Be Discarded

What does a writer have in common with a shoe salesman? A shoe salesman is less free, but more useful to society. “A shoe salesman – who is doing others’ tasks, who must answer to two or three bosses, who must do his job their way, and must put himself in their hands, at their place, during their hours – is nevertheless working usefully. Further, if the shoe salesman fails to appear one morning, someone will notice and miss him.” Annie Dillard begins her brilliant writing guide with advice that is hard to accept. All writers, she says, must discard…

Advice From Rilke’s Letters To a Young Poet That Will Make You a Better Writer And a Better Person

Being an artist is a privilege. But all writers, poets, painters, artists know how difficult it can be to follow your creative instincts and make a life of it. There are days when you think to yourself, is it worth it? Let me stop you right there, and introduce you to a man called Rainer Maria Rilke. For almost a century, Rilke’s letters have been the go-to manual for all young artists struggling with the life of the artist. Rilke’s voice is like a gentle hand reaching out, pulling you out of the misery of a bad day, restoring your faith in the creative life…

Writers in Pajamas: Why You Should Not Be Embarrassed For Working From Home

It’s funny how many writers are embarrassed of the UPS guy finding them in PJs in the middle of the day. In a recent article in The New York Times, Evan Hughes writes about the rise of the Writers’ Space, which is exactly what it sounds like: a space for writers to work, “a cocoon that protects its inhabitants from a world where most people regard writing, with some reason, as a peculiar and dubious hobby.” Working at a Writers’ Space, you can avoid the embarrassment of the UPS guy coming and thinking, in Hughes words, this guy just writes all…

Flow, the Science Behind Having a Good Writing Day

You sit alone and engage with half-formed thoughts in your mind, hoping that some will spill coherently on to the sheet or screen before you. At some point after the inevitable self-doubt and blankness, the words start to fall in place. You begin to find the right words. Sentences pour out of your consciousness. Paragraphs come gushing forth. Ideas weave together, folding and unfolding in letters and punctuation. You feel as though you is outside of yourself, and for a time, nothing else exists. It is an exhilarating feeling, and it leaves you feeling drained yet satisfied. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has spent his career studying this experience of…

Review: Dani Shapiro, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life

Dani Shapiro is the writing mentor I wish I had. In her memoir – Still Writing: the Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life – Shapiro, a writer as well as a teacher of writing, describes the simple act of sitting down to write. How can someone read (let alone write) an entire book about this? Try it, and the simple act of sitting down to write can encompass the entire world. In chapter-snippets from Reading and Patience to Cigarette Break and Envy, Shapiro explores the formidable space between the desire to write and the repeated act of putting words down…