Stuff that Keeps Smart People Awake at Night

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I don’t know about you, but when go to bed at night, my brain goes into Super Worry Overdrive. I worry about my bills, my kids, my  first drafts (like Anne Lamott, I am afraid someone will find my unedited work and will assume I have committed suicide when I realized my talent was gone).

One of my favorite Tumblr’s,  This Isn’t Happiness,  recently posted a list of things very intelligent people worry about.  Spoiler Alert: Whether they can continue to continue paying for HBO is not on the list. I had to look up some of the things they worry about. Suddenly, whether my cats need therapy or not (they do) is not as pressing. Apparently, I, and you, have more troubling things to keep us on edge:

  1. The proliferation of Chinese eugenics. – Geoffrey Miller, evolutionary psychologist.
  2. Black swan events, and the fact that we continue to rely on models that have been proven fraudulent. – Nassem Nicholas Taleb
  3. That we will be unable to defeat viruses by learning to push them beyond the error catastrophe threshold. – William McEwan, molecular biology researcher
  4. That pseudoscience will gain ground. – Helena Cronin, author, philospher
  5. That the age of accelerating technology will overwhelm us with opportunities to be worried. – Dan Sperber, social and cognitive scientist
  6. Genuine apocalyptic events. The growing number of low-probability events that could lead to the total devastation of human society. – Martin Rees, former president of the Royal Society
  7. The decline in science coverage in newspapers. – Barbara Strauch, New York Times science editor
  8. Exploding stars, the eventual collapse of the Sun, and the problems with the human id that prevent us from dealing with them. — John Tooby, founder of the field of evolutionary psychology
  9. That the internet is ruining writing. – David Gelernter, Yale computer scientist
  10. That smart people—like those who contribute to Edge—won’t do politics. –Brian Eno, musician
  11. That there will be another supernova-like financial disaster. –Seth Lloyd, professor of Quantum Mechanical Engineering at MIT
  12. That search engines will become arbiters of truth. —W. Daniel Hillis,

Fifteen Tips for Writers from Ernest Hemingway, Anne Lamott, and Stephen King

Of the many good things about being a writer… The pay! The fame! The constant attention…

If you believe any of that, you are not a writer.

But one of the GOOD things about writing, or really, any of the arts, is the sense of shared community. Writers want to tell other writers things that worked for them. There are, of course, hundreds of books of advice on writing.  But there is one thing I think all writers should remember.  This advice actually came from a book on parenting, but I feel it is just as applicable to writing:  Take the advice that makes sense to you and throw out all the rest.

Here are the three writers I turn to most often when I want to remember why Wall Street isn’t for me (aside from a complete inability to “math”):

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Ernest Hemingway

1.  If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. — Death in the Afternoon

2.  A serious writer is not to be confounded with a solemn writer. A serious writer may be a hawk or a buzzard or even a popinjay, but a solemn writer is always a bloody owl.

4.  I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.

5.  The good parts of a book may be only something a writer is lucky enough to overhear or it may be the wreck of his whole damn life and one is as good as the other.

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Anne Lamott― Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

1.  “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

2.  “I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

3.  “Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?”

4.  “Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.”

5.  “I don’t know where to start,” one [writing student] will wail. / Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flannery O’ Connor said that anyone who has survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life. Maybe your childhood was grim and horrible, but grim and horrible is okay if it is well done. Don’t worry about doing it well yet, though. Just get it down.”

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Stephen King On Writing

1.  “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

2.  “If you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”

3.  “Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

4.  “I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book — something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh.”

5.  “It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”


Ten Writers….Errrr…Toast… the Future: Thoughts for New Years’ 2013

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Looking for some words to guide revelers into the future? Here are some sentiments from writers who have pondered the unknown.

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1.  Looking for Alaska by John Green 

Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia…You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.

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2.  Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.

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3.  The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir 

Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.

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4.  Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson 

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

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5.  The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

“The key question to keep asking is, Are you spending your time on the right things? Because time is all you have. ”

(Bonus, because I love this book so much)

“Look, I’m going to find a way to be happy, and I’d really love to be happy with you, but if I can’t be happy with you, then I’ll find a way to be happy without you.”

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6.  Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

“Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. . . . With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don’t have to sit in no bar room blowin’ in our jack jus’ because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us.”

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7.  Tik-Tok by John Sladek

The future, according to some scientists, will be exactly like the past, only far more expensive.

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8.  The Theban Plays by Sophocles

Whoever neglects the arts when he is young has lost the past and is dead to the future.

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9.  Stephen Wright, Comedian

I was a peripheral visionary. I could see the future, but only way off to the side.

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10.  Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott 

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”


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