Seven writers on writing & perfectionism

7 Writers on Writing

I don’t believe in writer’s block.

do, however, believe perfectionism, fear, inferiority, frustration, distraction and/or existentialism can and often do contribute to a writer not writing. But none of these feelings—nor a resulting lack of productivity—are unique to writers. Why give power to the made-up concept of writer’s block?

As writers, when we’re faced with these feelings of inadequacy, we have two options: give up or power through. The latter always feels better.

These seven writers know all too well what it’s like to be plagued by self-doubt, but they also made it to the other side, and with great success. If you’re dealing with some of these feelings, take comfort in these words of geniuses—then get back to work.


 

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

“There is neither a proportional relationship, nor an inverse one, between a writer’s estimation of a work in progress and its actual quality. The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.”

– Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

“It’s easy to write. You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing.”

“Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”

– Stephen King, On Writing

“One must be pitiless about this matter of ‘mood.’ In a sense, the writing will create the mood. If art is, as I believe it to be, a genuinely transcendental function—a means by which we rise out of limited, parochial states of mind—then it should not matter very much what states of mind or emotion we are in. Generally I’ve found this to be true: I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes . . . and somehow the activity of writing changes everything.”

– Joyce Carol Oates, Paris Review interview

“I believe that the so-called ‘writer’s block’ is a product of some kind of disproportion between your standards and your performance… One should lower his standards until there is no felt threshold to go over in writing. It’s easy to write. You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing.”

– William Stafford, Writing the Australian Crawl

“The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.”

 

“You need a certain head on your shoulders to edit a novel, and it’s not the head of a writer in the thick of it, nor the head of a professional editor who’s read it in twelve different versions. It’s the head of a smart stranger who picks it off a bookshelf and begins to read. You need to get the head of that smart stranger somehow. You need to forget you ever wrote that book.”

– Zadie Smith, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays

“The difference between writers and critics is that in order to function in their trade, writers must live in the world, and critics, to survive in the world, must live in literature. That’s why writers in their own work need have nothing to do with criticism, no matter on what level.”

– Grace Paley, Just As I Thought

 

What are your favorite writing quotes? What gets you out of a slump?

 

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Keep your goals to yourself

Keep Your Goals to Yourself

This time last month, the blogosphere was buzzing with talk of goals for the New Year.

Some big. Others small. A few doomed to fail because people’s hearts weren’t in it, but they felt the need to join in. For so many, most of these goals have already fizzled out from a lack of discipline, direction or simply giving enough of a damn. But I suspect many of us have something in mind that won’t fizzle out quite so easily. We have the kinds of goals that speak to us on the gut level, even if we don’t quite know how to talk back yet.

And I’m here to tell you, if you’ve got one of those big, scary, possibly life-altering goals that—even after the hype of the New Year is long gone—you really want to see fulfilled this year, keep it to yourself.

I get it—you want support. You need accountability. And yeah, putting it in writing and broadcasting it to the world makes it feel real.

But you know what else feels real? Quietly putting in the work. Every single day. Not seeking validation from people with pesky little opinions about what it is you’re trying to accomplish or whether you’re cut out for it. You know what sharing your goals with the world really is? A distraction. A subconscious attempt at seeking permission and praise. A mind trick that makes you feel as if you’ve already taken the most difficult step by admitting your plans when in fact the hardest part is getting started—and not quitting when you get stuck.

You’d think putting it out there will hold you accountable—or at the very least, guilt you into following through on your proclamation because you can’t take it back. But the world doesn’t hold you accountable for anything, except maybe taxes. If it’s something you truly want, you don’t need an audience to get motivated. You need a plan of attack. And when that plan gets shot to hell (even the best-laid plans can fall apart when they’re passion-driven), you need to decide to keep hacking away regardless.

I’ll make one concession, because we could all use someone to tell us we’re not batshit insane for chasing the dream. One person: a friend, a partner, a coach or mentor, someone whose advice you trust and who will remind you why you got into this mess when you’re knee-deep in self-doubt. One person who gets what it is you’re after is way more valuable than a noisy crowd of strangers.

All the rest? It’s on you.

 

15 things you should never feel guilty about

15 Things You Should Never Feel Guilty About

Taking a sick day.

Staying in your pajamas until noon.

Not checking everything off your to-do list.

Changing your mind—for the sake of your heart.

Letting go of commitments that drain you—commitments that could be fulfilled by someone else.

Quitting that job you hate.

Ending a relationship that doesn’t light you up.

Not mourning the way people expect.

Giving the honest opinion you were asked for.

Letting go of friendships that give you no pleasure.

Going back to work after having a baby.

Eating. Anything.

Investing money in something that gives you pleasure—whether it’s a hobby, your education or that one pair of jeans that make you feel really, really good.

Feeling totally, completely and giddily happy.

All the embarrassing, questionable, not-totally-upstanding things you did years ago.

 

If you screwed up and offended someone or acted selfishly recently—apologize. If your privilege or good fortune is making you feel uncomfortable—lend your work or your words to a worthy cause. And if you’re stuck in a cycle of destruction, self-indulgence or tomfoolery—take the first step to end the cycle.

Everything else? In the words of Taylor Swift (yeah, I just went there)—shake it off.

P.S. You are enough | Confessions

Post-holiday purge & striving for minimalism

post-holiday purge & striving for minimalism

Every January, when the dust has settled from the holidays and the New Year has set in, I find myself itching to get rid of stuff.

Christmas tends to have that effect. New books! New clothes! And a few other things I don’t know what to do with that sit in little piles for weeks!

No more. The other day, still on a fresh-new-start high, I tackled the most overwhelming and neglected part of my home: my closet, where previously it looked like a bomb had gone off. I wish I had a before photo, but imagine shelves of wrinkled clothes arranged to resemble the long-forgotten bottom of a hamper and you’ve got the idea. But yesterday, I hauled off an impressive pile of clothes for donation and reorganized the rest. Now, there’s room to spare.

My closet was a big point of contention for me over the past few months. I literally dreaded opening up the closet in the mornings to see mostly old clothes showing their wear or the few newer items not on hangers and being stored poorly. I can’t tell you how many times I ended up rushing to work or school because I spent way too long searching for a decent outfit to wear.

In 2015, inspired by the concept of a capsule wardrobe, I won’t do a whole lot of clothes shopping. (I hardly did much in 2014, either.) But when I do, I plan to be much more selective with how I spend my money.

For me, that means higher-quality basics in neutral solids that are easy to pair and accessorize and that I know I’ll wear often. I won’t buy any piece of clothing that makes me think, “Yes, but what can I wear this with?” (I blame skirts for that predicament. I’ve never been good at skirts.)

Surprisingly, I’ve found the limitations of a small space and budget to be a good thing when it comes to stuff.

One of the benefits of living in a one-bedroom apartment is that you can’t amass too many things—it gets uncomfortable real fast. (And being on a grad student budget means I don’t ever shop out of boredom.) Sure, I’d love a big closet filled with beautiful things and rows and rows of built-in bookshelves that make it so I never have to part with a book, but I also want to be able to pick up and move on to the next big adventure without feeling overwhelmed if such an opportunity arrives. I’d rather treasure a handful of pieces I truly love than keep more things than I know what to do with. 

That’s why in my post-holiday purge, I won’t feel guilty casting a critical eye on the things I’ve held onto but hardly used for ages—or things I’ve recently acquired as gifts—that don’t serve a purpose or bring me joy. After all, it’s just stuff.

Next, I’d like to cull my book collection (just a little) and see what’s been shoved into the hall closet that can go to the curb.

Are you feeling a little crowded by your things? How do you decide what to get rid of or keep?

Dealing with the time change

Daylight Savings Time blues

I didn’t think it was possible to feel S.A.D. in SoCal.

S.A.D., of course, being Seasonal Affective Disorder.

I mean, other than my big career goals and all, the primary reason I moved to an area where seasons are at times indistinguishable was to avoid the gross meh feeling I get at the beginning of fall every year. But lo and behold, I’m feeling a bit meh. I don’t exactly expect sympathy to come pouring in here, though. I still have a tan in November, for God’s sake.

Still, with sunset at 4:58 p.m. (and only getting earlier through most of December), I don’t think it’s totally ridiculous to get the fall blues in the Golden State. (Contrary to popular belief, SoCal residents don’t spend every day frolicking at the beach.) Research has proven the time change is overall shitty for your health, safety, the economy and probably everything else that’s good and important, but I’m just guessing.

So how to deal with the lack of vitamin D?

Lately, I’ve been setting my alarm a few minutes earlier than normal to spend more time soaking up the morning light that pours in through the kitchen. These days, our apartment gets dark pretty early, so it’s nice to make up for it by not missing out on the best sunlight. Plus, I actually have time to eat breakfast peacefully, and I’m more likely to conk out at 11:30 at night. (I used to be a night owl – what happened?!)

After a period of going light on the exercise, I’ve been making an effort to step it up and go on more runs. Putting my shoes on is the hardest thing to do when I’m in a fall funk (I’d so much rather eat leftover Halloween candy), but when I come back from a jog, I feel like a new person. There is no better pick-me-up.

I always like to have something to look forward to, but it’s especially essential this time of year. It helps that Thanksgiving is right around the corner (and John’s sister is coming down from Northern California to stay with us!), but little things like a new book or recipe, a Saturday afternoon drive or a movie night in all put me in a good mood.

And, if all else fails, a bottle of wine (to share) always does the trick.

For those of you who suffer from the hell of Daylight Savings Time, how are you coping with the time change? Do you think it’s as stupid as I do?