Last weekend, I finished reading The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. It's a truly engaging novella in which the Queen of England decides to start reading books late in life. She progresses from reading a little to reading obsessively, and eventually, she decides to write as well. Here are a few quotes I particularly enjoyed.
". . . she felt about reading what some writers felt about writing: that it was impossible not to do it and that at this late stage of her life she had been chosen to read as others were chosen to write."
"And it occurred to her (as next day she wrote down) that reading was, among other things, a muscle . . . "
"She found, though, that when she had written something down, even if it was just an entry in her notebook, she was happy as once she would have been happy after doing some reading. And it came to her again that she did not want simply to be a reader. A reader was next door to being a spectator, whereas when she was writing she was doing, and doing was her duty."
"Lord! when you sell a man a book you don't sell just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue - you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night - there's all heaven and earth in a book, a real book." ~Christopher Morley
Specifically, about how to stymie yourself, from a post by Christine Kane entitled "7 Tried and True Ways to Stifle Your Creativity", which I found thanks to my friend Linda (
5. Require a Guarantee
Sit down at your desk. (Or at your piano. Or in your studio.)
Roll up your sleeves.
Rub your hands together and say the following out loud:
“This had better be really good. In fact, this had better win a big huge award of some sort and make me really famous.”
On the Benefits of Support and Encouragement
Over at Alphabet Soup, Jama interviewed author/illustrator James Rumford. The full interview is great, but here's the part that really sang to me:
My father taught me a lot, not just about drawing and painting, but about learning. We were always looking things up in the Britannica encyclopedias that we had. From him I learned to love learning, and this concept I try to infuse in my books. Yes, my books are often an intellectual stretch, but that is how one learns -- by stretching and challenging one's mind. My mother was always there encouraging me. This type of encouragement can never be underestimated.
On Keeping Going
Linda Urban also steered me to Woolgathering, the blog kept by artist Elizabeth Perry, in which she has posted a new drawing daily for years now. Not long ago, she reached her 1500th drawing and post. What she had to say:
Hmm. Mile markers, anniversaries, and birthdays are good. This year, my marriage turned 21 and I will turn 50. And signposts like those are worth celebrating, I think, even if they aren't really the point. I didn't get married in order to have anniversaries. I don't draw in order to have created a particular round number of drawings. After each celebration, I realize that over the long run, there's no particular magic number.
I breathe. I play. I love. I get to share things. I reflect. I find satisfaction in small moments.
Drawing teaches me to notice. To plunge in, regardless. To mess around. To make mistakes in public and keep going anyway.
"If a thing is worth doing," wrote G.K. Chesterton, "it's worth doing badly."
. . . what have I learned?
Will power doesn't count much. Delight does. Find something that delights you enough, and you will keep doing it anyway. Even on days when the biggest obstacles are your own expectations.
So my wish is to keep finding the delight. To have the chance to be present, slow down, and pay attention for a moment. Every day.
A small treat.
On Not Caving in to the Expectations of Others
First, Miss Charlotte Brontë, responding to G.H. Lewes's request that in future writings (after Jane Eyre), she tone down the melodrama and write more like Jane Austen:
If I ever do write another book, I think I will have nothing of what you call 'melodrama;' I think so, but I am not sure. I think, too, I will endeavour to follow the counsel which shines out of Miss Austen's 'mild eyes,' to 'finish more and be more subdued;' but neither am I sure of that. When authors write best, or, at least, when they write most fluently, an influence seems to waken in them, which becomes their master--which will have its own way--putting out of view all behests but its own, dictating certain words, and insisting on their being used, whether vehement or measured in their nature; new-molding characters, giving unthought of turns to incidents, rejecting carefully-elaborated old ideas, and suddenly creating and adopting new ones.
Is it not so? And should we try to counteract this influence? Can we indeed counteract it?
And then, some similar thoughts from Jane Austen, who was responding to the Prince Regent's librarian, James Stanier Clarke after he requested that she consider writing a particular sort of story:
You are very kind in your hints as to the sort of composition which might recommend me at present, and I am fully sensible that an historical romance, founded on the House of Saxe Cobourg, might be much more to the purpose of profit or popularity than such pictures of domestic life in country villages as I deal in. But I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.
Earlier this week, I noticed that the tagline for Sara Lewis Holmes's blog, Read Write Believe, is this wonderful quote from E.B. White (yes, he of Charlotte's Web and The Elements of Style):
"I get up every morning determined both to change the world and to have one hell of a good time. This makes planning the day difficult."
About Writing Haiku
Michael J. Rosen stopped by at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast on Friday to discuss his new book, The Cuckoo's Haiku: And Other Birding Poems, which looks like a must-have book not just for my own poetry collection, but as a gift for my aunt the bird-lover as well. Here's a bit of what he had to say:
. . . for me, writing is always a way of regaining ground, of slowing down my racing thoughts. As Auden wrote of poetry, it’s ‘clear thinking about mixed feelings.’
The shortness of this form proved meditative. For being so brief, it is nevertheless very long in realizing its prismatic clarity. (It’s easy to be vague and cloudy, but time-consuming—at least for me—to hone those few words into something that reveals!) So I could take notes, create alternative versions, polish a line or two, and then hold that image or set of images in my head while walking or working. I could write and rewrite almost like reciting a calming, but evolving, mantra. And I could also move on to something else or to another attempt at a different haiku if I felt frustrated by a given poem. I could begin several in the same day, moving them like checker pieces across the board…making several plays with one haiku, leaving another to the side, shifting to a third in order to provide a little time or renewed perspective on the first one.