Quotenik
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creative process

“Perhaps the old academies were right after all: don’t learn by copying nature, copy art. It’s not that nature gets it wrong, it’s that good artists show you how to get nature right. They know what changes you have to make to a thing to make it look like itself, but in another medium. What a chisel has to do to make marble flowers look like flowers, what a paintbrush has to do to bring a face to life in two dimensions. No matter what direction you take later, imitating the best work of your betters makes a good beginning. Maybe my eighteenth-centry motto got it backward. Don’t imitate Homer, imitate the Iliad.

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source: The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making (New York: Viking, 2012), 75–6.

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medium: Memoir

“Because carvers revere the god of unseen effort, of hidden work, of the back of things. The god of assiduousness, reigning over obsessives and perfectionists. Writers who delete whole chapters in the slender hope that what’s gone will shine through what’s left. Computer scientists who write beautiful code, programs that are more elegant than necessity demands. Why stop there? The cleaner who does more than an employer will ever notice, the night nurse who holds the hand of the unconscious stranger. If you’re looking for glamour, you’ve come to the wrong place, but it’s where you’ll find two old carvers whose serenity seemed to flower out of a lifetime of scrupulous work. Maybe it explains their venerable age, too. Somewhere I read of a study that identified not optimism or happiness or serenity or sociability as the psychological trait most predictive of longevity, but a more homespun one: conscientiousness.”

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source: The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making (New York: Viking, 2012), 111.

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medium: Memoir

“When you catch an adjective, kill it.”

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source: letter to David Watt Bowser, 20 March 1880; Twain letters searchable here via the Mark Twain Project

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medium: Letter

via: Austin Kleon

“I feel, sometimes, like I have a map in my pocket that folds up, and I pull it out, and it’s bigger than the table, and there’s a thousand places to go with her.”

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source: Interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, NPR, October 31, 2011. [full transcript here]

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medium: Interview

“A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally important, what is not. It is the discipline to discard what does not fit—to cut out what might have already cost days or even years of effort—that distinguishes the truly exceptional artist and marks the ideal piece of work, be it a symphony, a novel, a painting, a company or, most important of all, a life.”

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source: “Best New Year’s Resolution? A ‘Stop Doing’ List,” USA Today, December 30, 2003.

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medium: newspaper article

“I’ve seen time and time again the way that the process of trying to say something dignifies and improves a person.”

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source: “George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year,” by Joel Lovell, New York Times Magazine, January 3, 2013.

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medium: Magazine profile

“In a children’s art class, we sat in a ring on kindergarten chairs and drew three daffodils that had just been picked out of the yard; and while I was drawing, my sharpened yellow pencil and the cup of the yellow daffodil gave off whiffs just alike. That the pencil doing the drawing should give off the same smell as the flower it drew seemed part of the art lesson—as shouldn’t it be? Children, like animals, use all their senses to discover the world.”

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source: One Writer’s Beginnings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), 9–10.

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medium: Memoir

“Time was when readers kept commonplace books. Whenever they came across a pithy passage, they copied it into a notebook under an appropriate heading, adding observations made in the course of daily life. Erasmus instructed them how to do it; and if they did not have access to his popular De Copia, they consulted printed models or the local schoolmaster. The practice spread everywhere in early modern England, among ordinary readers as well as famous writers like Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, John Milton, and John Locke. It involved a special way of taking in the printed word. Unlike modern readers, who follow the flow of a narrative from beginning to end (unless they are digital natives and click through texts on machines), early modern Englishmen read in fits and starts and jumped from book to book. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts. Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality.”

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source: The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future (New York: PublicAffairs, 2010), 149–150.

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medium: Nonfiction

“I realized that all the really good ideas I’d ever had came to me while I was milking a cow. So I went back to Iowa.”

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source: originally published in an article in the New York Herald Tribune, quoted in Grant Wood: An American Master Revealed, by Brady M. Roberts (Petaluma, CA: Pomegranate, 1995), 32.

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medium: Interview

“Coffee breaks, cab rides, green rooms. Real growth often happens outside of where we intend it to, in the interstitial spaces—what Dr. Seuss calls ‘the waiting place.’ Hans Ulrich Obrist once organized a science and art conference with all of the infrastructure of a conference—the parties, chats, lunches, airport arrivals—but with no actual conference. Apparently it was hugely successful and spawned many ongoing collaborations.”

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source: “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth” (1998), more here

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medium: Manifesto

“For the first time in my life I see that I have grown an inch and I believe that I may in ten years be a poet. It is wonderful.”

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source: January 15, 1939 letter to Virginia Woolf, in May Sarton: Selected Letters 1916–1954 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997), 150.

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medium: Letter

“I’m repeatedly asked how I write, what my ‘process’ is. My answer is simple: I think patiently, trying out sentences in my head. That is the root of it. What happens on paper or at the keyboard is only distantly connected. The virtue of working this way is that circumstance—time, place, tools—make no difference whatsoever. All I need is my head. All I need is the moments I have.”

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source: “Where Do Sentences Come From?,” by Verlyn Klinkenborg, The Opinionator, New York Times, August 13, 2012.

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medium: Op-Ed

“Nothing can be done without solitude. I’ve created my own solitude which nobody suspects. It’s very difficult nowadays to be alone because we all own watches. Have you even seen a saint with a watch? Yet, I’ve looked everywhere for one even amidst the saints known as patrons of the watchmakers.”

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source: Picasso on Art: A Selection of Views, ed. by Dore Ashton (New York: Da Capo Press, 1988), 84.

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medium: Nonfiction

“I’m so used to writing with a pincushion that I don’t know if I can learn other ways or not, but I did go right down and buy a bottle of Carter’s [rubber cement]. The smell stimulates the mind and brings up dreams of efficiency. Long ago when my stories were short (I wish they were back) I used to use ordinary paste and put the story together in one long strip, that could be seen as a whole and at a glance—helpful and realistic. When the stories got too long for the room I took them up on the bed or table & pinned and that’s when my worst stories were like patchwork quilts, you could almost read them in any direction…. The Ponder Heart [novella originally published in the New Yorker in 1953] was in straight pins, hat pins, corsage pins, and needles, and when I got through typing it out I had more pins than I started with. (So it’s economical.)”

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source: letter to William Maxwell, September 10, 1953, in What There Is to Say We Have Said, ed. by Suzanne Mars (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2011), 41–42.

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medium: Letter

“I use Pelikan black drawing ink, and the crow-quill pen nibs. And you stick them in a handle. They’re all getting harder to find, all these antique art instruments. The companies that have made them are dying off one by one. But I got lucky. One day about six or seven years ago, my daughter, Sophie, bought a box of old pen points at a flea market in France. She found a box of about a hundred drawing pen points, and they’re the best ones I’ve ever used. They last and last, everything about them is fine, the point, the tensile quality, even the metal, the glass. The metal was just better, back then. I’ve still got maybe fifty of those. I think they’ll probably last me the rest of my life.”

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source: “R. Crumb, The Art of Comics No. 1,” interviewed by Ted Widmer, in Issue 193 of The Paris Review, 2010.

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medium: Interview

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