Here are some marvelous tid-bits from this book.
Did you know that song “I can’t get no (satisfaction)” by Keith Richards was written in his sleep?
He went to sleep near his guitar and a tape recorder, and when he turned on the recorder in the morning, the song was there, followed by 50 minutes of him snoring?
Maybe it is true, that if you really want to get creative, take a nap!
Another piece I liked was when Lehrer interviewed Milton Glaser, creator of the I heart NY logo. His office door reads “Art is work.”
Glaser says, “There’s no such thing as a creative type. As if creative people can just show up and make stuff up. As if it were that easy. I think people need to be reminded that creativity is a verb, a very time-consuming verb. It’s about taking an idea in your head, and transforming that idea into something real. And that’s always going to to be a long and difficult process. If you’re doing it right, it’s going to feel like work.”
This echoes Nietzsche writing in “Human, All Too Human” in 1878 when he writes,
“Artists have a vested interest in our believing in the flash of revelation, the so-called inspiration… shining down from heavens as a ray of grace. In reality, the imagination of the good artist or thinker produces continuously good, mediocre, or bad things, but his judgment, trained and sharpened to a fine point, rejects, selects, connects… All create artists and thinkers are great workers, indefatigable not only in inventing, but also in rejecting, sifting, transforming, ordering.”
So don’t wait for that flash of inspiration to write your appeals, your grants, your annual reports. ART IS WORK. You’ve got to keep writing to be able to sift, reject, transform, and order enough things to make what you want to make.
This reminds me of writing appeal letters and other fundraising documents. In this book, we learn a bit more about how to write better.
“One of the central challenges of writing… a writer loses the ability to see her prose as a reader and not as the writer.
She knows exactly what she’s trying to say, but that’s because she’s the one saying it. In order to construct a clear sentence or a coherent narrative, she needs to edit as if she knows nothing, as if she’s never seen these words before. A writer must become an outsider to her own work.”
Zadie Smith writes, “You need the head of a smart stranger who picks up your writing and begins to read. You need to get the head of that smart stranger somehow. You need to forget you ever wrote it.”
It turns out that there are two ways of reading, the ventral and the dorsal. The ventral neural highway is like your favorite Harry Potter book. You read most things with your ventral side. It makes it easy and effortless to read the words.
However, if you have to struggle a little bit to read, this activates your dorsal stream. When you’re forced to pay conscious attention to a sentence, you start to see your mistakes and how to tighten up a line or a story. To de-activate my ventral side, I like to read the work aloud, and whenever I stumble, I go over that passage and see how I can tighten it up.
So, please, start writing your appeal letters, annual reports, and other fundraising writing now. You need to put it in a drawer for as long as possible before you take it out again and start ruthlessly cutting. Then read it out loud. You’ll get clearer about how to write it better.
And here’s the downside of this interesting book- for those of us with a feminist bent, I would just like to mention that the majority of people who are profiled in this book are old white men with ties to the tech industry, so unless you like sycophantic bleating around the usual suspects from the cover of Forbes you might want to get it from the library rather than buy it.