Kurt Vonnegut – Writing Quote Wednesday

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I took this Writing Quote Wednesday from Kurt Vonnegut (November 11, 1922–April 11, 2007). I was part of his lost NYU lecture on what it takes to be a writer that was recently posted on Brain Pickings.

I once ran into Mr. Vonnegut at Penn State. He was eating at a table across from me. The way I remember it, he was by himself looking off into the distance almost as if he was thinking up the plot to some new story he was working on or thinking about what kind of drawing he might want to do next.

I wasn’t brave enough to approach him and say hello, but he certainly made an impression on me, sitting there by himself, thinking.

It is even more moving, thinking about that moment, when I read the full quote:

I’ve heard that a writer is lucky because he cures himself every day with his work. What everybody is well advised to do is to not write about your own life — this is, if you want to write fast. You will be writing about your own life anyway — but you won’t know it.

And, the thing is, in order to sit alone and work alone all day long, you must be a terrible overreacter. You’re sitting there doing what paranoids do — putting together clues, making them add up… Putting the fact that they put me in room 471… What does that mean and everything?

Well, nothing means anything — except the artist makes his living by pretending, by putting it in a meaningful hole, though no such holes exist.”

I’m doing some work right now to push through to the next level in my work and my life and one of the techniques I’m using involves drawing what I’m experiencing and then interpreting those drawings to gain insight into the situation. In my last session, which was a few weeks before I saw this quote, one of the drawings I did was of a man with several holes surrounding him. I had no idea what the holes were when I drew them and the man in the drawing had no idea what to do with them either.

Now I know that those holes I drew were meaningful holes to put my pretending in. Those holes do exist. Even though nothing means anything, putting our pretending in those holes is the way we, as artists, make our living.

Penn State English professor Kevin Boon had this to say back in 2007 about Mr. Vonnegut, “If I had to sum Vonnegut the man in one word, I would say he was, in all matters, gracious. If I had to sum his work, I would say that, in the end, the message threading his oeuvre is that people, as a whole, are cruel, but people, on an individual basis, are precious. Team players who are blindly loyal to ideologies are the primary reason the world has experienced so many atrocities (Dresden, Hiroshima, Auschwitz, slavery, racism, sexual intolerance, sexism, greed and the contemporary horrors of Iraq, Katrina, Darfur and so on), while the best results of our presence on Earth — a sonata by Mozart, a painting by Van Gogh, a poem by T.S. Eliot, a statue by Rodin, Gene Kelly dancing, Maria Callas singing — are the result of brilliant individuals producing single, epiphanous moments of beauty in a world that is largely inhumane.”

Just a Quick Update

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Hello, Dedicated Readers of Stories are the Wildest Things.

I’m back. I’ve missed you. I’m here and working hard to bring you the content you expect from this blog.

I’ve been busy putting together two children’s books, getting the five-year-old off to kindergarten, putting on plays, working on films and pounding away at the MG and YA novels I’ve been trying to finish. I’ve also started a Paper.li web paper called Children’s Book News Daily. (<== Check it out by clicking the link.)

Please drop a line to say hello or leave a comment and let me know what you’ve been up to.

You’ll be hearing from me more often from now on.

I appreciate all of the emails, Periscopes, Twitter responses and Facebook posts.

Here’s a quick quote for the day:

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Stories are truly the wildest things and sometimes we must retreat in order to tell them. Look for more content soon!

Yours in story-telling,

Paul

10 Things to Learn about Writing from Swiss artists Fischli and Weiss

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from Cléo Charuet´s studio wall and / or Peter Fischli & David Weiss

I found this photo on a great blog on redbubble.com and think it is really has a lot to teach us about writing. Peter and David are fine artists, but I’ve thought a lot about these concepts and how they apply to me and my writing work.

1. By working on only one project at a time, I find I am less distracted and better able to get quality work done. Putting down one word right after the other will get me to the end. Sitting at my desk thinking of all the projects I haven’t done gets me nowhere. We are not as great at multi-tasking as we think.

2. What is the problem your MC is trying to solve? Is your character just telling us their thoughts and feelings or are they doing something to solve a problem? A great fix for writing that doesn’t move your audience in any way. Check out this funny post by Ash Ambirge of The Middle Finger Project about The Secret to Creating the Elusive Emotional Connection in Writing.

3. Instead of listening, try to be a listening for possibility in your life. I try to be a listening for what it is I want to accomplish with my writing as well. By being a listening for something very specific, it will often show up unexpectedly. I also like to make my computer read my works in progress. Even though it sounds like Stephen Hawking is reading my words back to me, I still get a sense of rhythm and timing and whether I’m repeating certain phrases or using confusing language. It also makes me laugh when the computer pronounces things in a completely inappropriate way. The Listening Project is an interesting documentary that asks the question, “What does the world think about America?”

4. A lot of my writing time is spent asking questions. What does my MC want? Why do they want that? What are they going to do to get it? What obstacles are in the way? What tactics are they using to try to get what they want? Also, “Is my coffee mug full?” If it isn’t, time to take a break and refill it.

5. I always wait until polishing for this one. I try to turn off that inner voice that keeps saying, “This is nonsense” over and over, endlessly repeating itself in my head like my four-year-old when he wants a piece of candy that I’ve said he can’t have. Just let everything out in the first draft and then go back and find the sense in the nonsense.

6. Change is inevitable. I’m a plotter. I like a to have my beats worked out before I start. I often find the story changing as I work on it. The characters will say or do something that takes the story in an awesome direction but veers from the original idea. I try to let this play itself out and not worry about it too much. I try to trust that my brain has worked on the problems of the story while I’ve been doing laundry, taking a shower, trying to get the four-year-old down for a nap. I hope I never get too rigid not to embrace change, because every time I have, I’ve had an amazing adventure because of it.

7. Sometimes, I write for several hours and realize that what I’ve spent all that time on won’t make it into the final draft. But I know that these “mistakes” are important to get to the next level of writing that I have to do. I often teach my students that mistakes are an important part of the process. We are all human. We do not know exactly how to do things perfectly every time. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be as fun to do. Make mistakes, admit them, and move on. “Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray from Goodreads.com

8. Say it simple. Going back through first drafts I search for where I’m trying too hard. Having an editor or a beta reader can be really useful for this.

9. Breathe. Everyone, at some point, feels exactly as you do now as you are trying to write. Know this and be calm. Keep putting one word after the other. Get to the end. Read this great article on How Succesful People Stay Calm on Forbes.com.

10. If you aren’t enjoying what you are doing, neither will your readers. Smile, even in the midst of the difficulties, knowing that you are doing something that other people only dream about doing.There is even some research to suggest that the physical act of smiling, even if you don’t feel happy, can lead to feelings of happiness. Try it!