I enjoyed reading (August)

You can tell from the excerpts below and from previous posts that I’ve been putting some time into thinking about, and writing about, writing. I had to put my writing on hold for a while while I paid attention to other projects, but I’m starting to get back into it again and I’m exciting about it like I haven’t been in a while. It’s hard to begin again and even the movement of my fingers on the keys feel clumsy and awkward.

David Foster Wallace on Writing, Self-Improvement, and How We Become Who We Are (Maria Popova, sharing excerpts from David Foster Wallace):

Like any art, probably, the more experience you have with it, the more the horizon of what being really good is . . . the more it recedes. . . . Which you could say is an important part of my education as a writer. If I’m not aware of some deficits, I’m not going to be working hard to try to overcome them. . . .

Like any kind of infinitely rich art, or any infinitely rich medium, like language, the possibilities for improvement are infinite and so are the possibilities for screwing up and ceasing to be good in the ways you want to be good.

Grit and the secret of success (Maria Popova): I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately, since we started a project in my faculty where we look at student success and possible strategies to improve it. One of the proxy measures of student success is student engagement i.e. the amount of physical and cognitive effort that students put into completing an academic task. One of the areas in which student engagement can be enhanced is in academic challenge, which is the idea that by creating tasks that push students to work harder than they are used to, they will be more engaged and therefore potentially more successful.

“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work,” Chuck Close scoffed. “A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood,” Tchaikovsky admonished. “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too,” Isabel Allende urged. “You have to finish things,” Neil Gaiman advised aspiring writers.

Mary Gordon on the Joy of Notebooks and How Writing by Hand Catalyzes Creativity (Maria Popova):

I listen to music, often string quartets or piano sonatas. … I enjoy the music and the rhythm of the mindless copying. Or not entirely mindless; I’m luxuriating in the movement of the words which are, blessedly, not mine. I’m taking pleasure in the slow and rapid movements of my pen, leaving its black marks on the whiteness of paper. … I can’t listen to music when reading poetry or fiction. Into the notebook I am using for the fiction I’m writing, I copy paragraphs whose heft and cadence I can learn from. And some days, if I’m lucky, the very movement of my hand, like a kind of dance, starts up another movement that allows me to forget the vanity, the folly, of what I am really about.

An academic writing playlist (Pat Thomson)

1. A song for staring at the blank screen
2. A song for explaining to your lover why you didn’t hear what they just said
3. A song for reading reviewers’ comments
4. A song for that feeling of being really, really stupid
5. A song for pressing the submit button
6. A song to drown out the noises in the hall
7. A song to remind yourself to get off twitter now
8. A song for an impossible deadline

…. Click here for the rest of the playlist.