Old notes to myself
What do they even mean?
While cleaning my studio, I found these notes to myself at the bottom of my flat files. I scribbled them on an old manila envelope back in August 2014. It was kind of spooky to me how much of this stuff came up in my chat with Beth Pickens. I can’t necessarily know what exactly they meant to me nine years ago, but here’s what they mean to me now…
1. Do not disappear up your own asshole.
“I think it can be tremendously refreshing if a creator of literature has something on his mind other than the history of literature so far,” said Kurt Vonnegut. “Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak.”
2. The job is: the transmission of energy.
I believe books contain embodied energy that we unlock, activate, and tap into with our readerly attention. The energy we bring to the work as readers unlocks the stored energy left in the work by the writer. When it comes to our own writing, we have to take the time to stockpile enough of our own energy in the work so it may be worthy of the energies of others. But the energy in the work won’t just consist of the time we spent actually making it, it will also consist of all the time we spent leading up to the work and all the days we thought were going nowhere.
3. The work is not in you, it is around you.
A joke I like to tell in Q&As: “People often come up to me and they say, ’I feel like I have a book in me!’ And I say, “‘That sounds painful — you should see a doctor!’” I never feel like I have a book in me, I feel like there’s a book around me — a bunch of space junk orbiting my planet and it starts smashing together and forming bigger chunks, and my job is to keep track of those chunks and pick them out and weld them together into something.
4. Meditate. (Don't think, breathe.)
For a while, I found 10 minutes of silent meditation enormously helpful. Then I kind of fell off the meditation wagon. I might go back to it someday — these days riding a bike has the same brain-emptying effect and writing by hand in my diary can put me in the same kind of trance. (Breathing is still good — when I’m stressed, I like to take a slow deep breath, hold it for a bit, then let a long one out.)
5. Share the things that excite you.
Probably the single most important guiding principal of my work. I believe that if you share the things that genuinely excite you, you’ll run into the people you’re supposed to meet.
6. Let people look over your shoulder. (All you’re doing is that.)
When I was younger, being a teacher felt too scary, so I just told myself I was a fellow student sharing my work. I still feel that way, even though I’m starting to take the idea of being a teacher more seriously. Baby steps. (More on 5 and 6 in this book.)
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