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.”

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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

Writing Prompt 07: The 10 Most Expensive Houses in the World

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Flickr photo “Greystone Mansion” by Graham

Take a look at these sprawling mansions by clicking on this link to HowStuffWorks.com.

  • What motivates someone to build and live in these mega-homes?
  • What happens if you lose your money and have to move into a “regular” home or no home at all?
  • What if you are an impostor living as a guest in one of these homes?
  • What happens when you are found out?

Write a story exploring one of these ideas and post the link here.

Have an amazing writing day! Stories are the Wildest Things.

Is this the Single Greatest Tool for Solving Problems?

This short video by Mindvalley Academy, the online university for transformational education, teaches you a three-step technique for finding inspiration by one of the founders of the self-actualization movement, Napoleon Hill.

The ideas in this video remind me of how Steven Pressfield invocates the Muse before beginning his work for the day. He discusses this at length in his powerful book, The War of Art, a must-read for anyone engaged in creative pursuits.

I think there is some value in meditating on those who have gone before us and made progress in areas that we would like to make progress in. Theorists say that there are anywhere from 10-14 dimensions (or beyond). The ninth dimension is made up of “selection patterns that represent a generalized preference for one kind of universe over another.” I have a feeling that when we are accessing our imaginations, we are somehow tapping into this dimension of infinite possibilities.

I have no way of proving any of this, and my mind starts to fizz and pop like an electrical breaker box full of wet sprockets when I try to imagine how the ninth, tenth, etc. dimensions work, but I like the idea that there is a storehouse of all possible ideas that we can get access to if we are still enough and listen.

Let me know how the meetings with your mentors go by dropping me a line at pauljennynyc@gmail.com or leaving a comment below.

Letting Go to Get Ahead

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What beliefs do you hold about how you think your life SHOULD be going?

Those “shoulds” are often what keep us from taking action.

“I should’ve gotten up at 4 am to write.”

“I should’ve written 3000 words today.”

“I should be more prolific”

“I should be a better writer.”

“I should be higher up on Amazon rankings.”

“This should be easier.”

When we step in a pile of should, we can get overwhelmed and give up taking any action at all. Why keep working when we’re not living the life we had planned?

But what if we were able to give up the life we planned with SHOULDS so we could get to the life that is waiting for us NOW?

I’m a big fan of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, which is based on Campbell’s ideas of the monomyth. They have both helped me greatly in my writing, especially when working on the middle grades paranormal adventure series I’m in the throes of. (I “should” be farther along with my pages than I am, but I am further into the story than I thought I would be.)

I’m also a big fan of letting go of the past to get ahead and this quote reminded me of that today.

As a writer who also has several other jobs to pay the bills, I have to remind myself of this quote all the time.

You see, the life I often have planned is the one where I wake up at 4 am to start writing and get 10,000 words done that day and feel amazing and like the super writer I know I secretly am. I can picture myself at the keyboard, coffee steaming on my desk, listening to the early morning buzz and hum of appliances and no other sounds but my fingers clicking across the keys.

But more often than not, life gets in the way. I’m already up until four catching up on work I didn’t get done during the day. My four-year old will wake up before me no matter how early I decide to set my alarm and he’ll demand my attention for the rest of the morning. My wife decides to get us involved in a project with our production company that she desperately needs my help with. I get a cold because my four-year old sneezed directly into my mouth. (Ew!) My teaching responsibilities become overwhelming and I have to use that time I wanted to use for writing to catch up on grades or re-do a lesson plan or correct papers.

The life I planned doesn’t happen. The temptation is to say, “Well, that didn’t work out. It will never work out. I might as well give up.” I have many times.

But when I see this quote and think about the idea of the writer’s journey, it reminds me that I have to let go of those plans sometimes to live the life I am currently living. By doing this, I accept the life I have, state my gratefulness for that life, and find the time to write when I can, no matter how little or how much that is. By making even a small amount of progress on my book, I am still making progress toward the life that is waiting for me. The quicker I get at letting go of the SHOULDS the quicker I get back to the LIFE that is waiting for me.

When I hold on to the life I had planned, I feel regret and sadness and beat myself up when I look in the mirror.

“You’ll never finish this book. You should take up bowling.”

“You’ve failed in the past, you’ll probably fail again. You should work at a bowling alley.”

“Why do you kid yourself? You should give up. Bowling seems like fun.”

“You look terrible and should feel terrible and should never write another word again. It should be easier. Why don’t you listen to me and take up bowling?”

Mr. Should, my inner critic, is so mean to me all the time and his recommendations don’t make any sense. I’m a terrible bowler.

The only way to shut him up is to take action.

No, not by bowling.

What I do is walk over to the laptop, open up Scrivener, and keep writing. Word by word, bird by bird, I get the project done. Some days I do get to wake up early and get those thousands of words in and some days it is a struggle to finish a sentence or two. On those days I surrender and let go as quickly as I can. But with each actual written word, I get closer to the life that is waiting for me at the end of the story, whatever that may be. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to do it all over again as I rewrite and again as I start the next book.

Creation of something from nothing is not an easy thing to do no matter what Mr. Should says.

Be kind to yourself. Let go of the life you planned and start living the life that is waiting for you.