Self-doubt

Happy are they who don’t doubt themselves and whose pens fly across the page. I myself hesitate, I falter, I become angry and fearful, my drive diminishes as my taste improves, and I brood more over an ill-suited word than I rejoice over a well-proportioned paragraph.

Gustave Flaubert, letter to Maxime du Camp, October 1847

How (and when and where) to write

[There is] evidence that environments, schedules, and rituals restructure the writing process and amplify performance… The principles of memory retrieval suggest that certain practices should amplify performance. These practices encourage a state of flow rather than one of anxiety or boredom. Like strategies, these other aspects of a writer’s method may alleviate the difficulty of attentional overload. The room, time of day, or ritual selected for working may enable or even induce intense concentration or a favorable motivational or emotional state. Moreover, in accordance with encoding specificity, each of these aspects of method may trigger retrieval of ideas, facts, plans, and other relevant knowledge associated with the place, time, or frame of mind selected by the writer for work.

Ronald T. Kellogg, The Psychology of Writing. Read more at Brain Pickings.

A thought for New Year’s Day

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.

Seneca, On the Shortness of Life (via)

Sam Harris: The self is an illusion

DeLillo: who I write for

“I don’t have an audience; I have a set of standards.”

Don DeLillo

Creative Process

Creative Process

Creative Process” by Christoph Niemann

Reckless

roth-inscription

A note by Philip Roth, written in a first edition of Portnoy’s Complaint, which he recently reread after 45 years.

Poem of the day

The plane screamed low down lower Fifth Avenue,
lifted at the Arch, someone said, shaking the dog walkers
in Washington Square Park, drove for the north tower,
struck with a heavy thud, releasing a huge bright gush
of blackened fire, and vanished, leaving a hole
the size and shape a cartoon plane might make
if it had passed harmlessly through and were flying away now,
on the far side, back into the realm of the imaginary.

“When the Towers Fell” by Galway Kinnell. Read the whole poem here.

Hemingwrite

hemingwrite-top

I’m intrigued by this new device, called the Hemingwrite. Currently under development, it is a sort of typewriter for the internet age, a simple plain-text word processor with wifi capability that allows it to sync documents with Google Docs and Evernote. That is a perfect combination. It lets jittery, easily distracted writers like me do the one thing we absolutely must — disconnect from the web — while still providing the benefits of cloud syncing and backup. I am not crazy about the over-the-top retro design, which feels self-conscious, but I hope the machine makes it into production, whatever its final design might be. I’d love to try one. For years I have used a variety of devices to shut myself off from the internet while writing: an old, pre-wifi ThinkPad, a simple keyboard device called an AlphaSmart Neo (now lamentably discontinued). This could be a useful tool for gadget-heads like me whose gadgets, alas, tend to get in the way.

Read more about the Hemingwrite here and here.

Nina Darnton’s “The Perfect Mother”

Here is a quick Q&A I did with Nina Darnton, whose novel The Perfect Mother launches November 29. If you liked Defending Jacob…

Calvino #1

[M]ost of the books I have written and those I intend to write originate from the thought that it will be impossible for me to write a book of that kind: when I have convinced myself that such a book is completely beyond my capacities of temperament or skill, I sit down and start writing it.

Italo Calvino

Calvino #2

One starts off writing with a certain zest, but a time comes when the pen merely grates in dusty ink, and not a drop of life flows, and life is all outside, outside the window, outside oneself, and it seems that never more can one escape into a page one is writing, open out another world, leap the gap.

Italo Calvino

Calvino #3

Instead of making myself write the book I ought to write, the novel that was expected of me, I conjured up the book I myself would have liked to read, the sort by an unknown writer, from another age and another country, discovered in an attic.

Italo Calvino

An artist’s name

The ancient masters of Japanese art were allowed to change their name once in their lifetime. They had to be very selective about the moment in their career when they did so. They would stick with their given name until they felt they had become the artist they aspired to be; at that point, they were allowed to change their name. For the rest of their life, they could work under the new name at the height of their powers. The name change was a sign of artistic maturity.

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit

Rainy Day

Rainy Day

Via

After the flood

Clarendon Canal

A new report imagines Boston inundated by rising sea levels — as much as 7.5 feet higher than today. Above, Clarendon Street in the Back Bay converted into a canal. My office is just a few blocks from this intersection.

All alike

Sooner or later, the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.

V.S. Pritchett, “Gibbon and the Home Guard” (via)

Photo of the Day

Mediterranean Mantis

A Mediterranean mantis. This photo is among the early entries in the 2014 National Geographic Photo Contest.

Resisting the present

To judge by the clock, the present moment is nothing but a hairline which, ideally, should have no width at all — except that it would then be invisible. If you are bewitched by the clock you will therefore have no present. “Now” will be no more than the geometrical point at which the future becomes the past. But if you sense and feel the world materially, you will discover that there never is, or was, or will be anything except the present….

For the perfect accomplishment of any art, you must get this feeling of the eternal present into your bones — for it is the secret of proper timing. No rush. No dawdle. Just the sense of flowing with the course of events in the same way that you dance to music, neither trying to outpace it nor lagging behind. Hurrying and delaying are alike ways of trying to resist the present.

Alan Watts

Van Gogh Museum

Detail - Wheatfield With Crows

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has a beautifully designed web site with, apparently, the entire collection available in eye-popping high resolution. It is amazing what detail you can see in these high-res images, right down to the brush strokes and globs of paint. It is as if the museum guards all turned their backs and allowed you to press your nose right up to the canvas. Above is a detail from “Wheatfield With Crows” (1890), one of the last pictures Van Gogh painted before his suicide. The complete picture is below, and you can click the image to see it a little larger. But to get the full effect, go download the insanely huge image at the museum’s web site.

In May, the Met in New York posted 400,000 high-res images from its collection, so this seems to be a trend.

Van Gogh - Wheatfield With Crows (1890)