Thursday, June 30, 2005

A Quote from Dan Kennedy, on the Writing Life

Recently I got some review books from Basic Books. (Yay, free stuff.) One of them is Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times, a collection of essays by mostly-young, relatively unknown writers on writing. Flipping through, I came across a diary entry from Dan Kennedy (one of those McSweeney's dudes) that I liked:

April 11, 2004

I don't believe in writer's bloc--I'm not working up to a big analysis of why one can go for so long without writing. I don't go in for that whole think of like (Spinal Tap accent in place) 'Look man . . . it's impossible to [insert any for mof creative work] write now. I can't do it, and I don't know when . . . [dramatic pause] or if . . . I'll be able to do it again, man.' I mean it ain't backbreaking work, writing. And there's no sense in making a precious and larger-than-life practice of it. I think that things like music, writing, filmmaking are all blue-collar jobs, and I think that it just gets worse and worse the more people try to position themselves or their craft as anything more lofty than what basically amounts to a job in the service of others. One of my all-time favorite quotes about the creative process of writing comes from Neal Pollack: 'I don't see writing as some sort of holy act. When the phone rings, I answer it.' Having said all of that, it has taken me a month to sit back down in front of this page. Maybe you can't control when inspiration will strike, but there is something to be said for the discipline of showing up so that when it comes around you'll be there waiting.


Genealogy Spice said... helped simply reading this excerpt while working (read: procrastinating) on getting to the point where I can start writing actual sentences to go in my dissertation's lit review chapter :-).

12:44 PM  
Sunil Laxman said...

I like this entry too..

And you do need discipline to blog!! When I started blogging I thought it'll all be a lark, and I could put up anything I felt like, but it's to be taken much more seriously :-)

2:12 PM  
Academic Coach said...

That familiar phrase:

perspiration before inspiration.

2:20 PM  
Amardeep said...


Yes, it's true-- it can be hard work. (Incidentally, you seem to be doing a good job of it lately. I loved the Dosa post...)

On a separate train of thought, it might be that blogging and long-form writing are actually different subspecies. Blogging is immediate, and usually immediately rewarding. The threshold for success is a little lower.

Real writing -- whether creative or analytic -- is the opposite. I sometimes think I've become worse as a writer since I started blogging; I'm much more impatient now, and tend to demand a response much faster. I'm also growing more and more distant from this whole business about getting paid for your writing. (Why expect payment when so many people are 'releasing' tons of quality writing for free on the Internet?)

2:21 PM  
Dafina Girl said...

Yes, yes, and again, yes. As I turn to revising, I hope Kennedy is right.

8:59 PM  
Anonymous said...

I mean it ain't backbreaking work, writing. And there's no sense in making a precious and larger-than-life practice of it.

With all due respect, that's hogwash. Art is difficult. Creators of "content" might be considered blue-collar workers, but anyone who is attentive to the muse knows that few worthwhile things are easily earned. This is why we honor great writers: because they are doing something costly.

I don't expect everyone to understand this.


11:12 AM  
Amardeep said...

I knew you would hate that, Abdul Walid! You, I believe, are a Romantic. Kennedy is more of a pragmatist.

I'm not sure where I myself stand... somewhere in between, probably. Not all literary or creative writing requires the same degree of sacrifice, so it's probably a mistake to think of it as somehow qualitatively different from other kinds of labor.

Of course, one could argue that writing that doesn't require sacrifice or a significant degree of social isolation isn't really worthy of the name.

12:29 PM  
Amrit said...

I don't think not-working-hard on your writing is being pragmatist. I believe all good works require hard work, and there is nothing wrong in putting in hard work in order to achieve something outstanding (the definition of 'outstanding' can vary from person to person, though). We're in this strange age of mediocrity when people don't want to strive and want to establish themselves without putting too much effort. Just read Michael Angelo's story to know how much hard work art demands.


12:07 PM  
Kevin said...

I'm glad you liked it :)

6:07 AM  

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