Aphorisms and Reflections on a Literary Life (Part 2)

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These reflections represent my thoughts on literary life. They have been written down as they occur to me. These reflections were influenced significantly by the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I highly recommend this book for every writer.


On Where to Write. The place you write should feel magical. It should make you feel part of a great tradition of romantic writers who struggle against anonymity and their own limitations. For me, this is anyplace but alone in my room. Libraries, small coffee shops, parks...these places work for me. I also like to keep a small pocket-sized journal and go for long walks. Most of my best ideas come when I'm doing something. You might think of this as "defocused concentration" or thinking without thinking. However, for editing, proofreading, or other mundane tasks, you should have someplace like a sensory deprivation chamber. The goal should be complete focus.


On the Moral Value of Frivolity. Part of the essence of art is frivolity. The artist needs to develop a deep distaste for things that are too instrumental. A great many aspects of corporate life and military life, such as top-down management, are meant to squeeze frivolity in the service of rationality. These should be deeply distasteful to writers and artists. You should love screwing off at work, you should love goofing off on vacation, you should love coloring and randomly dancing for no reason. Most of the true value in the world comes from things that are discovered as a result of frivolous adventures.


On Kicking It. Can you get off junk? By junk, I don't mean drugs, I mean writing. Like all addicts, your stint in sobriety is bound to be short. But you can kick it for a bit with some of these substitutes. Performance art! Working with your hands! Think up stories in your head (but don't write them down)! Sex, of course.


Can Writing Make Your Life Better? Read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The point is Quality. In your life, your goal should be to put in good time -- minute by minute, second by second -- with a special focus on good. Often, I find I make the best time when I'm writing. I often feel that my time outside writing is made better by writing. But the point should be to put in good time.


On Time. For this novelist and writer, at least, time moves slower than for normal people. It takes three or four years to finish a novel -- maybe longer. In the meantime, people get married (and often divorced), technology changes, fads come and go; in short, life moves on. Those around me feel neglected when I take long sojourns into imaginary worlds. I stay the same, or change in subtle but wonderful ways, meanwhile the world rushes on. I am often a man out of time. You probably will be too.


On Gumption and Resourcefulness. Who knows how they are learned? Who knows how to even define them? They seem to be the most necessary qualities for a writer, but if you cannot know what they are or how they should be defined, then why do they even bear mentioning. Print this out and try to subsist on the paper for several days. Then maybe you'll learn gumption and resourcefulness. Or, maybe you'll just become really familiar with the taste of paper. (Is there a difference?)


Ego-Success. Ego-success is the worst reason to go into writing - go into anything really! Money. Awards. Adoration. Fan letters. What's the alternative? Telling a really meaningful story. Write stories that are absolutely necessary. Being happy. Treating people well. Writing a quality book is the best way of treating people well. 

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