Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor…It will keep you small and crazy your whole life.

–Anne Lamott

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It would be many years before I began to understand that all of life is practice: writing, driving, hiking, brushing teeth, packing lunch boxes, making beds, cooking dinner, making love, walking dogs, even sleeping. We are always practicing. Only practicing.

–Dani Shapiro, Still Writing

“Our actual ultimate root is in our humanity, not in our personal genealogy.”

–Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By

The hour of fulfillment is buried in years of patience.”  –Mary Oliver

We are living in an era of screen addiction and capitalist pornography. As a species, we are squandering the exalted gifts of consciousness, losing our capacity to pay attention, to imagine the suffering of others. You are a part of all this. It involves you. This is the hard labor we’re trying to perform: convincing strangers to translate our specks of ink into stories capable of generating rescue.

–Steve Almond, This Won’t Take but a Minute, Honey

I’m pretty sure the only way to get a copy of this book is to pay Steve Almond cash for it. So my advice is to track him down immediately. You won’t be sorry. 

I love my work with a love that is frantic and perverted, as an ascetic loves the hair shirt that scratches his belly. Sometimes, when I am empty, when words don’t come, when I find I haven’t written a single sentence after scribbling whole pages, bogged down in a swamp of despair, hating myself and blaming myself for this demented pride that makes me pant after a chimera. A quarter of an hour later, everything has changed; my heart is pounding with joy.

–Gustave Flaubert

“I didn’t become a writer the first time I put pen to paper or when I finished my first book (easy) or my second one (hard). You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway. Wasn’t until that night when I was faced with all those lousy pages that I realized, really realized, what it was exactly that I am.”
– Junot Diaz

“This is what I believe in, what I trust will ultimately distinguish those who want to write and publish from those who do write and publish: work.”
–Bret Anthony Johnston

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
–Mary Oliver

The above comes from the poem “The Summer Day,” which I read at The Library of Congress’ site Poetry 180: a poem a day for American high schools. Sometimes I really do love the world.

The bottom is where the living roots of the psyche are. It is there that a woman’s wild underpinnings are. At bottom is the best soil to sow and grow something new again.”

–Clarissa Pinkola Estes, from Women Who Run with the Wolves

The Root: How do you organize your writing time nowadays, given the changes in your life since then (i.e., motherhood)?

Zadie Smith: The standard answer to this is, “I organize my time much more effectively,” but I’m afraid that was only an early reaction to changed circumstances, and as time has gone on, I’ve reverted back into my old, bad habits. The difference is, these days when I waste four hours looking at women’s dresses on the Internet, I am painfully aware that I’m a) doing this instead of looking after my child, b) doing this when I should be writing or marking essays (which was always true) and c) paying good money to buy the wasted time (which was not always true).

So it’s like standard-issue writer’s guilt, but multiplied by a million! The bottom line is I have much less time to write, yet sadly this does not always compel me to work efficiently. Sometimes it does, but not always.

–Read the full interview here.

P.S. Reading Smith’s NW and loving it.

“Schism in the soul, schism in the body social, will not be resolved by any scheme of return to the good old days (archaism), or by programs guaranteed to render an ideal projected future (futurism), or even by the most realistic, hardheaded work to weld together again the deteriorating elements. Only birth can conquer death–the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new.”  -Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

“One poem or one story doesn’t matter one way or the other. It’s the process of writing and life that matters.” –Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

“The true artist keeps working long after the heart has been cut out of [her].”

–Peter Wild

“There is a door we all want to walk through, and writing can help you find it and open it. Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up. But publishing won’t do any of those things; you’ll never get in that way.” –Anne Lamott, from Bird by Bird

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