In my younger, more vulnerable years, I used to keep a list of all the books I read. I took pride in this, took pride in counting how many books I read in any given year.
I was one of the few who liked to read. It was a secret pleasure of mine, but as soon as I hit the thousand books milestone, it’s lost its charm to me forever.
Maybe I’ve read twice as many books so far, maybe I’m not that good at counting anymore.
In any case, there are billions of words I’ll never get to read. Millions of books, stories, poems, plays, and essays that I’ll never even know about.
I do my best to read two books a week, and if I were to keep this up until I turn 75, I will have read an additional 4, 700 books. Give or take a few, because I’ve stopped being good at math in sixth grade, when I decided that all I wanted out of life was to write stories.
Maybe it sounds like a lot, but it’s not. It really isn’t.
J.D. Salinger once wrote, “Do you know what I was smiling at? You wrote down that you were a writer by profession. It sounded to me like the loveliest euphemism I had ever heard. When was writing ever your profession? It’s never been anything but your religion. Never. I’m a little over-excited now. Since it is your religion, do you know what you will be asked when you die? But let me tell you first what you won’t be asked. You won’t be asked if you were working on a wonderful, moving piece of writing when you died. You won’t be asked if it was long or short, sad or funny, published or unpublished. You won’t be asked if you were in good or bad form while you were working on it. You won’t even be asked if it was the one piece of writing you would have been working on if you had known your time would be up when it was finished.
I’m so sure you’ll get asked only two questions:
“Were most of your stars out? Were you busy writing your heart out?”
If only you knew how easy it would be for you to say yes to both questions. If only you’d remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won’t even underline that. It’s too important to be underlined.”
Overall, I believe this is some of the best writing advice ever written. But I’d like to analyze the hell out of this paragraph, and tell you what I think about writing being either a profession or a religion.
First of all, writing is both at the same time. It has to be, if one wishes to be productive.
After all, my writing mantra has been, “Punch the damn keys.”
I say nothing about being inspired, having the time, or the planets being aligned in just the right way. I say nothing about other commitments, or chores, or the fact that you have to go grocery shopping.
I say, punch the damn keys, because, ultimately, that’s what makes you a writer. It’s as simple as that.
Many of you would love to write better short stories or poems, more compelling blog posts, more intriguing articles. And you’ve probably heard all the old advice by now. Practice makes perfect. Get your 10,000 hours in. Just show up and write.
And of course, these are all great ideas, but implementing them takes a lot of time. It’s not like you can write for 10,000 hours in a week or so. It’s not physically possible.
Or as they say…
What if I were to tell you there are a couple of ways you can improve your writing right now? No years and years of practice required.
What would you say?
Well, you’d be glad you decided to read this post.
Dystopia literally means “not-good place” and is a term used to describe a community or society that is undesirable or frightening. Dystopian novels were all the rage back when during the Cold War, possibly as a way to warn people of the perils of such a totalitarian regime as the Communist one. As a fictional genre, dystopias have the uncanny characteristic of painting a rather hopeless future for society.
Here are four dystopian novels that are eerily close to becoming true:
Henry Miller’s prose is unconventional, unapologetically sexual and philosophical, the topic of much controversy (his books were banned in the US until 1961), which is why he’s the kind of writer who has something to teach you about writing.
“An artist is always alone – if he is an artist.” – Henry Miller
Writing is a lonely job, no doubt about it. And no matter how successful you might become, you’re still alone. It’s the inexorable truth of the writer’s condition: you sit at your desk, in an empty room or in the most crowded coffee shop, yet you’re alone. You just do your thing.
Of course, this poses a rather interesting question: if you spend that much time alone, how do you find stuff to write about?
I let the commotion around me these days subside a bit before speaking to you from the bottom of my heart. I have just been given far too great an honor, one I neither sought nor solicited. But when I heard the news, my first thought, after my mother, was of you. Without you, without the affectionate hand you extended to the small poor child that I was, without your teaching and example, none of all this would have happened. I don’t make too much of this sort of honor. But at least it gives me the opportunity to tell you what you have been and still are for me, and to assure you that your efforts, your work, and the generous heart you put into it still live in one of your little schoolboys who, despite the years, has never stopped being your grateful pupil. I embrace you with all my heart.
There’s a part of me that believes art to be a primordial aspect of the human condition. Art inspires, art is a way of achieving greatness, of building a better world. Art turns strangers into friends. Without art, without artists, we wouldn’t be ourselves anymore.
Because I feel that within the confines of any artistic form of expression, we allow ourselves to wear a mask. The artist hides behind words or paints or brushes. And he feels safe. He can be anyone he wants to be. His freedom is limitless. And he plays this bizarre game of hide and seek with the rest of the world, constantly changing the rules, until he decides – maybe on a mere subconscious level – to be himself, thinking that people will never find out.