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Writing For Your Life Today

The sensation of writing

The sensation of writing a book is the sensation of spinning, blinded by love and daring. It is the sensation of rearing and peering from the bent tip of a grassblade, looking for a route. At its absurd worst, it feels like what mad Jacob Boehme, the German mystic, described in his first book. He was writing, incoherently as usual, about the source of evil. The passage will serve as well for the source of books.

“The whole Deity has in its innermost or beginning Birth, in the Pith or Kernel, a very tart, terrible Sharpness, in which the astringent Quality is very horrible, tart, hard, dark and cold Attraction or Drawing together, like Winter, when there is a fierce, bitter cold Frost, when Water is frozen into Ice, and besides is very intolerable.”

If you can dissect out the very intolerable, tart, hard, terribly sharp Pith or Kernel, and begin writing the book compressed therein, the sensation changes. Now it feels like alligator wrestling, at the level of the sentence. 

This is your life. You are a Seminole alligator wrestler. Half naked, with your two bare hands, you hold and fight a sentence’s head while its tail tries to knock you over. Several years ago in Florida, an alligator wrestler lost. He was grappling with an alligator in a lagoon in front of a paying crowd. The crowd watched the young Indian and the alligator twist belly to belly in and out of the water; after one plunge, they failed to rise. A young writer named Lorne Ladner described it. Bubbles came up on the water. Then blood came up, and the water stilled. As the minutes elapsed, the people in the crowd exchanged glances; silent, helpless, they quit the stands. It took the Indians a week to find the man’s remains. 

At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then – and only then – it is handed to you. From the corner of your eye you see motion. Something is moving through the air and headed your way. It is a parcel bound in ribbons and bows; it has two white wings. It flies directly at you; you can read your name on it. If it were a baseball, you would hit it out of the park. It is that one pitch in a thousand you see in slow motion; its wings beat slowly as a hawk’s. 

One line of a poem, the poet said – only one line, but thank God for that one line – drops from the ceiling. Thornton Wilder cited this unnamed writer of sommets: one line of a sonnet falls from the ceiling, and you tap in the others around it with a jeweler’s hammer. Nobody whispers it in your ear. It is like something you memorized once and forgot. Now it comes back and rips away your breath. You find and finger a phrase at a time; you lay it down cautiously, as if with tongs, and wait suspended until the next one finds you: Ah yes, then this; and yes, praise be, then this. 

Einstein likened the generation of a new idea to a chicken’s laying an egg: “Kieks – auf einmal ist es da.” Cheep – and all at once there it is. Of course, Einstein was not above playing to the crowd. 

from “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard

Kleiber’s law

Working out of the legendary Santa Fe Institute, where he served as president until 2009, West assembled an international team of researchers and advisers to collect data on dozens of cities around the world, measuring everything from crime to house-hold electrical consumption, from new patents to gasoline sales.

When they finally crunched the numbers, West and his team were delighted to discover that Kleiber’s negative quarter-power scaling governed the energy and transportation growth of city living. The number of gasoline stations, gasoline sales, road surface area, the length of electrical cables: all these factors follow the exact same power law that governs the speed with which energy is expended in biological organisms. If an elephant was just a scaled up mouse, then from an energy perspective, a city was just a scaled-up elephant.

But the most fascinating discovery in West’s research came from the data that didn’t turn out to obey Kleiber’s law. West and his team discovered another power law lurking in their immense data-base of urban statistics. Every datapoint that involved creativity and innovation – patents, R&D budgets, “supercreative” professions, inventors – also followed a quarter-power law, in a way that was every bit as predictable as Kleiber’s law. But there was one fundamental difference: the quarter-power law governing innovation was positive, not negative. A city that was ten times larger than its neighbor wasn’t ten times more innovative; it was seventeen times more innovative. A metropolis fifty times bigger than a town was 150 times more innovative.

Kleiber’s law proved that as life gets bigger, it slows down. But West’s model demonstrated one crucial way in which human-built cities broke from the patterns of biological life: as cities get bigger, they generate ideas at a faster clip. This is what we call “superlinear scaling”: if creativity scaled with size in a straight, linear fashion, you would of course find more patents and inventions in a larger city, but the number of patents and inventions per capita would be stable. West’s power laws suggested something far more provocative: that despite all the noise and crowding and distraction, the average resident of a metropolis with a population of five million people was almost three times more creative than the average resident of a town of a hundred thousand. “Great cities are not like towns only larger,” Jane Jacobs wrote nearly fifty years ago. West’s positive quarter-power law gave that insight a mathematical foundation. Something about the environment of a big city was making its residents significantly more innovative than residents of smaller towns. But what was it?

From “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” by Steven Johnson – Riverhead Books

Why Writers Should Blog

by Angela Enos

Blogging is a great way to share your thoughts, connect with readers, practice your writing skills, and build a writing platform. As emerging authors, we have all been asked to create an author platform. There are various ways to accomplish that, and blogging is undoubtedly one of those. Blogging is one way to share your expertise and—at the same time—build an author platform.

Why blogging?

1.      It’s writing! It is somewhat like writing a book; we have to research, write, edit and produce. We are developing skills, I say, writing skills! 

2.      We can play around with ideas within our niche and discern what resonates with our developing audience.  After producing a blog, we can check the stats and the comments and discover what gets our audience excited and keeps them coming back for more.

3.      Blogging is a great way to become known in your niche and be recognized as an expert or a person to seek for sound advice in your arena.

4.      Blogging gives us a weekly or bi-weekly deadline to write and create something. That, my friend, is called consistency. Yes. If we are to build a successful platform, we need to be consistent. A regular blog teaches us discipline and adhering to deadlines. Even if we don’t feel like writing, we have a responsibility to our audience.  I pose the question: What if a dedicated blogger is more successful than an undedicated one?

For more on the importance of consistency with your platform, please click here to read my blog post of July 10, 2020, Why is it Important to be Consistent with my Platform Postings?   

Again, blogging is one way to build an author platform. But it is just one way, not everybody else is doing it, and not everybody who is doing it is getting anything out of it. It may not be the platform for you. Keep exploring.

Now it’s your turn; if you are a blogger, share your blogging experience with us, good or bad.  We’d love to hear from you.

Can it be done? and, Can I do it?

Writing every book, the writer must solve two problems: Can it be done? and, Can I do it? Every book has an intrinsic impossibility, which its writer discovers as soon as his first excitement dwindles. The problem is structural; it is insoluble; it is why no one can ever write this book. Complex stories, essays, and poems have this problem, too – the prohibitive structural defect the writer wishes he had never noticed. He writes it in spite of that. He finds ways to minimize the difficulty; he strengthens other virtues; he cantilevers the whole narrative out into thin air, and it holds. And if it can be done, then he can do it, and only he. For there is nothing in the material for this book that suggests to anyone but him alone its possibilities for meaning and feeling. 

from “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard

Smart companies embrace the conflicts that make communities thrive.

Most companies prefer to avoid conflict. But communities are inherently political, and conflict is the norm. “In” groups need “out” groups against which to define themselves. PlayStation gamers dismiss Xbox. Apple enthusiasts hate Microsoft. Ford truck owners shun Chevy owners. Community is all about rivalries and lines drawn in the sand.

Taking a stand to bring together a community is one of the few remaining strategies that can create true brand loyalty. Communities become stronger by highlighting, not erasing, the boundaries that define them.

from “Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins” by Mark Schaefer

Define something simple and relevant

At the highest level, the most important challenge for business leaders is to define something simple and relevant their customers want and to become known for delivering on that promise. Everything else is a subplot that, after having delivered on the customer’s basic desire, will only serve to delight and surprise them all the more. 

from “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen” by Donald Miller

There are stories in my soul, and they are the ones that count the most.

Each time I rewrote an essay, my story came forward a little more, my history opened a bit wider, and I became more visible. This was not comforting. 

However, I finally gave in a few months ago and began to write from the most honest place I could find. I began to write about the fears I’d always been embarrassed to share, the little obsessions that reveal me as just a human being after all, one not very wise at all, who is too small and unformed herself to stand at the front of the room and formulate a philosophical approach to life.

When I turned in the new version of the introduction, my agent responded that it was exactly right, and I uttered some mild profanity. Okay, this is my life, and I suppose that if I write essays, I will need to let others see this life, really see it. I come to the writing every other week or so for maybe an hour. It is uncomfortable work, but my gut tells me that it’s the right work. There are stories in my soul, and they are the ones that count the most. 

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

The stranger

However you define the problematic present-day stranger—the religious stranger, the cultural stranger, the transgendered stranger, the homeless stranger—scripture’s wildly impractical solution is to love the stranger as the self. You are to offer the stranger food and clothing, to guarantee the stranger justice, to treat the stranger like one of your own citizens, to welcome the stranger as Christ in disguise. This is God’s express will in both testaments of the Bible.

– from “Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others” by Barbara Brown Taylor – HarperOne

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