Several Short Sentences About Writing

This is the best book I’ve ever read on the subject of writing.

Author Verlyn Klinkenborg’s book takes on a poetic form, breaking paragraphs into sentences to make you (reader and potential author) understand how important each and every one is. The book makes it clear that the rules you know about writing are bad rules:

Consider the bad habit of typing, preliminarily, two or three words—
A natural start to the sentence, you think—
And then waiting for the rest of the sentence to reveal itself.
But after two or three words the sentence is already foredoomed,
Its structure predetermined.
Two or three words, and you’ve already reduced the remaining choices
To a small, depressing handful.
It’s shocking to realize how quickly you become wedded to those two or three words,
How hard it is to abandon them for an alternative.

What do you do once you’ve wrangled the art of the good sentence? Well:

So revise toward brevity—remove words instead of adding them.
Toward directness—language that isn’t evasive or periphrastic. Toward simplicity—in construction and word choice.
Toward clarity—a constant lookout for ambiguity.
Toward rhythm—where it’s lacking.
Toward literalness—as an antidote to obscurity.
Toward implication—the silent utterance of your sentences.
Toward variation—always.
Toward silence—leave some. Toward the name of the world—yours to discover.
Toward presence—the quiet authority of your prose.
And when things are really working,
That’s when it’s time to break what already works,
And keep breaking it
Until you find what’s next.

Reminds me of: ‘The War of Art‘ by Steven Pressfield, the ‘Smooth Soup’ episode of Wonderful (where I heard about this book)

Erykah Badu: In Conversation

A fantastic interview with Erykah Badu on Vulture.

Erykah Badu has never been one to shy away from making a provocative statement. When asked in this interview about how she feels about the current allegations against many artists, she sidesteps it and decides to tells a story around Barabbas.

Jesus is standing on one side, Barabbas is standing on the other side, and the people have to choose which one of them could go free. Some people started yelling, “Barabbas! Barabbas! Barabbas!” Then so many people were doing that that the others found safety in numbers, and they also started yelling, “Barabbas! Barabbas! Barabbas!” People walked up who didn’t even know what was going on and they also started yelling for Barabbas to go free. I always think about that. It’s so important to me.

I think it’s important to understand that Badu isn’t trying to undermine any allegations against any artist, but instead is fighting for the recognition that it’s important to think for yourself. She continues that thought out a bit further:

The people who got hurt, I feel so bad for them. I want them to feel better, too. But sick people do evil things; hurt people hurt people. I know I could be crucified for saying that, because I’m supposed to be on the purple team or the green team. I’m not trying to rebel against what everybody’s saying, but maybe I want to measure it. Somebody will call me and ask me to come to a march because such and such got shot. In that situation I want to know what really happened. I’m not going to jump up and go march just because I’m green and the person who got shot is green.

We should have strong opinions. We should not have those opinions because others told us too. Badu gives us insight into how she holds her own, referencing (of all things!) Star Wars: The Phantom Menace:

There was one scene where they were fighting, and they got to these doors that would close and then open up 30 seconds later. So at one point, (Qui-Gon Jinn) turned and flipped and he and Darth Maul were on opposite sides of a door. So you have Darth Maul standing there, ready for that door to open, and Qui-Gon Jinn does this (Badu briefly kneels on the ground with her eyes closed just for a few seconds), then he gets up. He took a deep breath and then started back fighting…I fell in love with that. Whenever I’m afraid, I do that: Take a minute and breathe. No matter how scary something is, doing that helps it go away.

Take a minute, and breathe.

Reminds me of: ‘The Phantom Menace

Ninety-Nine Stories of God

A book of absurdities imbued with a sense of great depth.

Three conclusions from three of my favorite stories in the book:

“We can only know what God is not, not what God is. We can never speak about God rationally, but that does not mean we should give up thinking. We must push our minds to the limits, descending even deeper into the unknowing.”

We cannot ‘know’ God.

“You should have changed if you wanted to remain yourself, but you were afraid to change.” – Sarte to Camus

We cannot ‘know’ ourselves.

“The God who is with us is the God who forsakes is. Before God and with God, we live without God.” – Bonhoeffer

Even when we connect with God, we are without him.

Reminds me of: ‘Testament‘ by Nino Ricci, ‘The Prophet‘ by Khalil Gibran, ‘Illusions‘ by Richard Bach

Hurry Slowly – Austin Kleon

Pencil vs Computer‘, an interview with the author of ‘Steal Like an Artist

“It seems like constraints make work harder but they’re actually easier because we know what we can work with. The fun is seeing what we can get out of it.”

When I’m having a hard time making progress, I’ll pick a constraint. Paper is a great example.

“Every artist figures out pretty quickly: When you can do everything, you do nothing.”

(What a quote!)

“Pencils and paper are for the generative state. When it comes to conveying ideas to other people, they keyboard is the magical device.” – Clive Thompson

Figuring out when to use a pencil and paper versus a keyboard and screen is much more important than it seems. I’ve learned this through morning pages.

“When I copy a passage by hand, I slow down and really read it.”

How much do we really read, and how much do we simply skim? Did you read this article, truly, or did you just glance over it? You might be surprised at how often you give something only a cursory bit of attention.

Reminds me of: ‘The Artist’s Way‘ by Julia Camera

On the Birth of a Son

A dark-humored poem I have never forgotten:

Families when a child is born
Hope it will turn out intelligent.
I, through intelligence
Having wrecked my whole life,
Only hope that the baby will prove
Ignorant and stupid.
Then he’ll be happy all his days
And grow into a cabinet minister.

Reminds me of: Austin Kleon

Sicario

This film, though brutal, reminds me of the resilience of mankind. We push forward even when the odds are against us.

“You’re asking me how a watch works. For now, just keep an eye on the time.”

We often enter into situations demanding answers. Sometimes, it is better to realize that no answer will possibly satisfy the way that experience does.

“Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything we do, but in the end you will understand.”

This movie gives definition to the phrase ‘the end justifies the means’, and reveals the terrible consequences of this logic.

“You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now. ”

A critique of the war on drugs, Sicario has no resolution for you. The film ends with children playing soccer, with gunfire in the background temporarily pausing the game. Then? Life goes on.

Reminds me of: ‘Discipline Equals Freedom‘ by Jocko Willink, ‘Tribe‘ by Sebastian Junger

Hebrews 1:1-2

“Throughout our history, God has spoken to our ancestors by His prophets in many different ways. The revelation He gave them was only a fragment at a time, building one truth upon another. But to us living in these last days, God now speaks to us openly in the language of a Son, the appointed heir of everything, for through Him God created the panorama of all things to come.”

It used to be that God only spoke through a select few. Now he speaks freely. He does not need to speak audibly. The language of Jesus is within us, deeper than any form of communication.

We speak in English, God speaks in Son, for Jesus is the language of God. – Brian Simmons

We see only what’s in front of us, but Jesus (and his language) sees all things and all times. Perhaps this is why it’s so often hard to decipher or understand.