Brain Pickings

Author Archive

29 DECEMBER, 2011

Maurice Sendak on Passion, the Risk of Art, and Never Having Written for Children

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What Herman Melville has to do with the artist’s gauntlet and the sacrilege of sequels.

There are very few creators alive today truly worthy of being called “creative genius.” Children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, beloved for Where The Wild Things Are and other gems, is certainly one of them. This affectionate 5-minute micro-documentary from Tate Modern zooms in on the iconic creator, uncompromising and idiosyncratic and brilliant as ever at the age of 83, to reveal the creatively restless and lovably grumpy workings of his heart and mind.

Herman Melville said that artists have to take a dive, and either you hit your head on a rock and it splits your skull and you die, or, that blow to your head is so inspiring that you come back up and you do the best work you ever did.

But — you have to take the dive. And you do not know what the result will be.

[…]

My books are really books that are impressed and in love with the memory of comics and how important they were to me as a child… I didn’t live near any famous person, I didn’t see Michelangelo go to work in the morning. I just lived in Brooklyn, where everything was ordinary — and yet, enticing and exciting and bewildering. The magic of childhood, the strangeness of childhood, the uniqueness that makes us see things that other people don’t see…

For more Sendak gold, see his rare Velveteen Rabbit illustrations circa 1960.

via Open Culture

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29 DECEMBER, 2011

Advice on Writing from Modernity’s Greatest Writers

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What sleep and plagiarism have to do with the poetry of experience and the experience of poetry.

I recently stumbled upon a delightful little book called Advice to Writers, “a compendium of quotes, anecdotes, and writerly wisdom from a dazzling array of literary lights,” originally published in 1999. From how to find a good agent to what makes characters compelling, it spans the entire spectrum of the aspirational and the utilitarian, covering grammar, genres, material, money, plot, plagiarism, and, of course, encouragement. Here are some words of wisdom from some of my favorite writers featured:

Finish each day before you begin the next, and interpose a solid wall of sleep between the two. This you cannot do without temperance.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Begin with an individual and you find that you have created a type; begin with a type and you find that you have created — nothing.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Don’t ever write a novel unless it hurts like a hot turd coming out.” ~ Charles Bukowski

Breathe in experience, breathe out poetry.” ~ Muriel Rukeyser

A short story must have single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” ~ Edgar Allan Poe

You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” ~ Saul Bellow

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” ~ T. S. Eliot

Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” ~ Stephen King

Good fiction is made of what is real, and reality is difficult to come by.” ~ Ralph Ellison

The problem with fiction, it has to be plausible. That’s not true with non-fiction.” ~ Tom Wolfe

You cannot write well without data.” ~ George Higgins

Listen, then make up your own mind.” ~ Gay Talese

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Write without pay until somebody offers pay; if nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for.” ~ Mark Twain

And then, of course, there’s the importance of knowing what advice to ignore:

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28 DECEMBER, 2011

Iconic Playwright Harold Pinter on Truth in Drama (and in Life)

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“The real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth.”

In 2005, the influential English playwright and screenwriter Harold Pinter (October 10, 1930–December 24, 2008) won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His acceptance speech, excellent in its entirety, contains this brilliant meditation on truth in drama — which, if we embrace the life-imitates-art-imitates-life paradigm, is also a brilliant meditation on truth (“truth”) in life.

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.” ~ Harold Pinter

For more on Pinter’s character and spirit, see Must You Go?: My Life with Harold Pinter, the fantastic memoir by renowned biographer Antonia Fraser, who also happened to be Pinter’s partner.

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