Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘video’

24 JANUARY, 2014

John Updike on Making Money, How to Have a Productive Daily Routine, and the Most Important Things for Aspiring Writers to Know

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“In a country this large and a language even larger … there ought to be a living for somebody who cares and wants to entertain and instruct a reader.”

In 2004, shortly after winning the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, John Updike — who had also won two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards, the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal, among countless other accolades — gave an interview for the Academy of Achievement to discuss his views on writing, many of which he explored at greater depth in his superb 1996 memoir Self-Consciousness (public library), which gave us his timeless reflection on writing and death. Here are the highlights of the interview.

On his daily rhythm, adding to the stringent routines and offbeat rituals of famous writers:

Since I’ve gone through some trouble not to teach and not to have any employment, I have no reason not to go to my desk after breakfast and work there until lunch, so I work three or four hours in the morning. And it’s not all covering blank paper with beautiful phrases… I begin by answering a letter or two — there’s a lot of junk in your life as a writer, most people have junk in their lives — but I try to give about three hours to the project at hand and to move it along. There’s a danger if you don’t move it steadily that you kind of forget what it’s about, so you must keep in touch with it. . . . I’ve been maintaining this schedule since … 1957.

On doggedness:

It’s good to have a certain doggedness to your technique.

His advice to aspiring writers, including a sentiment about money that Michael Lewis would come to echo and which Muppeteer Jim Henson embodied:

Try to develop actual work habits and, even though you have a busy life, try to reserve an hour, say, or more a day to write. Very good things have been written on an hour a day. . . . So take it seriously, set a quota, try to think of communicating with some ideal reader somewhere. . . .

Don’t be contentious to call yourself a writer and then bitch about the crass publishing world that won’t run your stuff. We’re still a capitalist country and writing, as some would agree, is a capitalist enterprise… It’s not a total sin to try to make a living and court an audience.

Read what excites you… and even if you don’t imitate it, you will learn from it. . . .

Don’t try to get rich. . . . If you want to get rich, you should go into investment banking or be a certain kind of lawyer. On the other hand, I like to think that in a country this large and a language even larger, that there ought to be a living for somebody who cares and wants to entertain and instruct a reader.

Complement with more invaluable advice to aspiring writers from Ernest Hemingway, H.P. Lovecraft, Neil Gaiman, and Josh Green, then bookmark and revisit this continually updated archive of famous writers’ wisdom on the craft.

For more of Updike’s wisdom, see his meditation on why the world exists and his little-known, lovely children’s book.

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14 JANUARY, 2014

John Green’s Superb Advice to Aspiring Writers and Creators in the Digital Age

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A vital reminder of the only good reason to put something into the world.

Advice to aspiring authors from successful ones seems to be a special meta-genre of literature, with notable contributions from Ernest Hemingway, H.P. Lovecraft, Neil Gaiman, and a running list of literary greats. But some of the best and timeliest advice ever given comes from prolific author John Green, whose most recent novel, The Fault in Our Stars, became TIME’s #1 fiction book of the year. In this erratic but infectiously charming video, Green reflects on why he loves the internet and offers some invaluable advice to aspiring writers, echoing Schopenhauer’s admonition about writing for money and recasting Faulkner’s famous contention that writers write “not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before” in timely light:

Every single day, I get emails from aspiring writers asking my advice about how to become a writer, and here is the only advice I can give: Don’t make stuff because you want to make money — it will never make you enough money. And don’t make stuff because you want to get famous — because you will never feel famous enough. Make gifts for people — and work hard on making those gifts in the hope that those people will notice and like the gifts.

Maybe they will notice how hard you worked, and maybe they won’t — and if they don’t notice, I know it’s frustrating. But, ultimately, that doesn’t change anything — because your responsibility is not to the people you’re making the gift for, but to the gift itself.

For more timeless wisdom on writing, see the collected advice of great authors, then revisit 2013′s best books on writing.

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06 JANUARY, 2014

The Universe in a Glass of Wine: Richard Feynman on How Everything Connects, Animated

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The Great Explainer reminds us that our divisions of life are artificial and arbitrary.

In 1961, Caltech took a leap of faith and invited Richard Feynmanchampion of scientific culture, graphic novel hero, crusader for integrity, holder of the key to science — to teach the introductory course in physics. At the time, Feynman was a theoretical physicist with no particular interest in students — but he soon proved to be nothing short of an enchanter of the classroom. Feynman earned himself the moniker “the Great Explainer” and his lectures went on to become a cultural classic, blending brilliant yet accessible explanations of science with poignant meditations on life’s most profound questions. They were eventually collected in The Feynman Lectures on Physics (public library) — the same indispensable intellectual treat that gave us Feynman on the one sentence to be passed on to the next generation.

Among the most beautiful is the third lecture in the series, titled “The Relation of Physics to Other Sciences,” in which Feynman, eloquent and enthralling as ever, illustrates the connectedness of everything to everything else — or what poet Diane Ackerman memorably called “the plain everythingness of everything, in cahoots with the everythingness of everything else.”

In this lovely short film for PBS, Joe Hanson of It’s Okay to be Smart — whom I have previously called a Feynman of the Tumblr era — brings Feynman’s timeless wisdom to life in a mesmerizing montage. Transcript below.

A poet once said, “The whole universe is in a glass of wine.” We will probably never know in what sense he said that, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look in glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflections in the glass, and our imagination adds the atoms. The glass is a distillation of the earth’s rocks, and in its composition we see the secrets of the universe’s age, and the evolution of the stars. What strange array of chemicals are in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is found the great generalization: all life is fermentation. Nobody can discover the chemistry of wine without discovering the cause of much disease. How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts — physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on — remember that nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let us give one more final pleasure: drink it and forget it all!

The Feynman Lectures on Physics offers an abundance of more such illuminating insight and immutable truth on the interplay between science and everyday life. Complement it with Feynman on good, evil, and the Zen of science, his case for the universal responsibility of scientists, and his little-known drawings.

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