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“Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and ‘fall into a vortex’, as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace… She did not think herself a genius by any means, but when the writing fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon, and led a blissful life, unconscious of want, care, or bad weather, while she sat safe and happy in an imaginary world, full of friends almost as real and dear to her as any in the flesh… The divine afflatus usually lasted a week or two, and then she emerged from her ‘vortex’, hungry, sleepy, cross, or despondent.”
Someone said that art reveals much more of the artist than it ever does of the subject. That is especially true when it comes down to writers. Being that literature is not a visual art, every sentence that we read or write, every place, every character is ultimately filtered through the author’s own unique perspective. We may look at a painting and find it ugly, boring, or see no meaning in it whatsoever. However, in literature, we find whatever the author describes as beautiful, beautiful. No matter how plain the thing may actually be, once it is put into words, we have never known or experienced it any other way. As words are laid out on the page, the writer has exposed a piece of their own heart, by showing us the things that they find are the most valuable.
For that reason, writing is the truest, most direct form of communication. Every single person who has read Lord of the Rings knows Frodo’s exhaustion as he climbs Mount Doom, and every Harry Potter fan knows the slippery, silky feel of an invisibility cloak. Even if you’ve never had Turkish Delight, you know after reading The Chronicles of Narnia that it’s pretty much the most delicious thing ever. Writing is the great equalizer in art; it creates an experience that everyone can share, something that we can all understand the same way. Most importantly, it connects our hearts to everyone who has ever held the same book in their hands. So while writing, as an art, does expose the heart and mind of the writer, it also provides an experience that connects all of its readers. The subject, the truth of the story itself, lies somewhere between the perception of the writer and the interpretation of the reader.
One of my favorite procrastinators of all time is Leonardo da Vinci. This same man who painted The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa also laid plans for aircraft and submarines hundreds of years before their time. In addition being a painter and inventor, he was also a sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. He was as talented as he was distractable, but I’m inclined to believe the latter was just as vital as the former.
If he had been better able to focus on one field and one field only, we might only have known him as, say, Leonardo da Vinci, the cartographer, or Leonardo da Vinci, the botanist. I’m sure he would have been a super cartographer or botanist, but had Leonardo da Vinci actually been able to focus, our culture just wouldn’t be the same. Other famous procrastinators include Albert Einstein, Marcel Proust, and Douglas Adams, who famously once said, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
So here’s to procrastination, the destroyer of time but also great mother to creativity. Because, as we’ve discussed before and will inevitably discuss again, the time during which you are not creating is just as important as when you are. Read more »
Jennifer Schuessler’s essay in the New York Times on the disappearance of actual work from literary fiction made me wonder if anybody is really, truly interested in the day-to-day minutiae in a corporate world where most of it could be summarized as “read emails” and “responded to emails.”
For example, Moby-Dick’s ridiculous number of chapters devoted to whale anatomy could actually be more interesting than reading in detail about the number of times I read an email, talked to our accounting department, responded to first email, and read the next email.
On my computer there is a folder labeled “Short Stories”. In that folder lie 20 or so opening paragraphs to short story ideas I’ve had the last few months. They range from a delusional bus ride, a sleep-running businessman and my dog’s neurotic nature when he can’t find his toys. The one thing they have in common is that they’re all unfinished.
Think of the process to becoming a writer like the process of building a brick wall.
I’ve always been one to shoot for the moon and be really pissed off if I land amongst stars. It’s a problem I think most young writers and artists in general go through, setting lofty goals for ourselves and getting angry when they aren’t met.
My problem is that I want to be published in the New Yorker right now. Read more »
There is something distinctly magical about the idea of the “underdog.” Seemingly present in most–if not all–fiction, the underdog is only too easy to identify with. Who hasn’t felt that the world is against us, our problems are too great, our skills are too inadequate? What ultimately happens to this character becomes tantamount to our own abilities to succeed, or to fail. The need to read on, to learn how the underdog will summon his strength and overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds, consumes us.
As the saying goes, everyone loves an underdog.
But I wonder if this intense bond we tend to form with our beloved underdog stems not from simple empathy, but from some more primeval source. I recently was reading a copy of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Blood Rites, an interesting analysis of the origins of war and ritual sacrifice, which despite its subject matter provided some insight as to why we crave fiction and how, like ritual sacrifice, it might satisfy an unconscious, primitive hunger we all share. Read more »
The Expressive Intelligence Studio blog has a new post up about the roleplaying card game Magic: The Gathering, which made me feel nostalgic in an odd sort of way. Because while I did enjoy the game in its heyday, I had a very different experience with it because I never actually bothered to learn the rules of the game. I was inspired by the art on the cards and bored by the scoring system, and so instead came up with a new set of rules entirely (which I don’t remember at all now). I taught them to my friends and we played informal tournaments with each other at home, at school, wherever.
Like pretty much everyone ever, I have a certain fascination with my childhood, largely in part because I had no qualms whatsoever about turning up my nose at the so-called rules and inventing my own. No matter how silly or irrational they may have seemed. And because of this fearlessness (or, if you like, naiveté), the artifacts of my childhood consist of horribly-drawn comics, short stories plagiarized from my favorite novels, and scripts for movies I planned to make, camera be damned. I even convinced some of my friends to participate in an original musical about gang warfare, which wasn’t a fraction as hilarious to me then as it is to me now. Sure, I might not have had the necessary knowledge to write about such a subject, being a preteen girl from the suburbs of New Jersey. Sure, I might not have been the best candidate to compose the original score, not being able to actually play any musical instruments. But who cared? I was going to write as much of the musical as I could, and rehearse with my friends as much as I could, and have a blast doing it.
While I am thrilled beyond compare that I can (fairly) confidently say that I’m a better writer now than I was at 10 or 12, and that my ideas now actually come to fruition, I feel like there’s something I’ve lost. Read more »
This past weekend in New York, where Twilight megahunk Robert Pattinson is currently shooting a film, the actor was approached by a throng of teenage girls. Even though he had a total of five (five!) professionally-trained security guards on hand to protect him, the hysterical fans nonetheless chased him into the street, where he was hit by a car.
Pattinson is fine. But apparently this sort of thing happens to him a lot. And as unfortunate as that is for him, it’s absolutely fascinating to me. There are so many things I don’t understand here. Why does Pattinson have a weird habit of running away from his fans? And—more curiously—how can these girls be so enthralled with a fictional character that they will go so far as to chase him down the street? I understand the concept of feeling connected to fictional characters, and hey, if you don’t feel connected to a character then clearly the storyteller has done something wrong. But to go to such extremes as chasing an actor into a busy street? I don’t get it, though I would like to. And I’m not sure if this is an example of fandom gone awry or—as crazy as this sounds—if this is what true fandom really is. Read more »
Sometimes not writing is just as important as writing, and when I don’t want to write I remind myself of this simple and profound Buddhist principle: “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” There is value in embracing emptiness rather than just trying to fill it with random available crap. Of course sometimes I’m just deluding myself and procrastinating….screwing around with half-strangers on Facebook. But sometimes something really is working inside of me that isn’t ready to take form quite yet, and if I try to tell it what its form is supposed to be then I don’t like the result. It’s false. Forced. Awkward. Like trying to shove a 20-pound cat into a 5-pound box. Read more »
I’m a little stunned by Tom Hodgkinson’s recent article in the New Statesman called “Don’t sell me your dream,” in which he (figuratively) stamps his feet, acts like a cranky old man who doesn’t understand technology, and wags his finger at those that do. If Hodgkinson wasn’t so thorough in explaining why exactly he hates technology so much, I’d be convinced the whole thing was satire.
If his article wasn’t meant to be a joke, much of his reasoning certainly comes off that way. He gives all the standard reasons for hating technology: it’s distracting, it’s rude, etc etc. I’ll grant him those. Sometimes I wish I could live a life totally disconnected, too, and not have to think about who’s emailing me, or writing on my wall on Facebook, or about what my friends are doing on Twitter. But at this point, and especially as a journalist-slash-writer-slash-artist, I’ve accepted it as a necessary evil. To ignore it, let alone actively detest it, is foolish.
But there were 2 points in particular that really bothered me. Read his reasoning, and my responses, after the jump. Read more »