Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Brain Pickings

Happy Birthday to Brain Pickings !


Writers seem to always be looking for new information, new ways to think about things, new sources of inspiration.

Well, there’s a woman named Maria Popova who publishes a blog called Brain Pickings.

When I compare the effort for my four blog posts a week plus my new Friday Behind The Scenes posts to Maria’s three posts a day, I wonder about the sources of her drive and determination

Her blog is now seven years old and her words about its beginning and growth are legend:

“On October 23, 2006, I sent a short email to a few friends at work — one of the four jobs I held while paying my way through college — with the subject line ‘brain pickings’, announcing my intention to start a weekly digest featuring five stimulating things to learn about each week, from a breakthrough in neuroscience to a timeless piece of poetry. ‘It should take no more than 4 minutes (hopefully much less) to read’, I promised. This was the inception of Brain Pickings. At the time, I neither planned nor anticipated that this tiny experiment would one day be included in the Library of Congress digital archive of ‘materials of historical importance’ and the few friends would become millions of monthly readers all over the world

There’s a more in-depth piece on the origins of Brain Pickings in The New York Times, where it says:

“Ms. Popova says she views her job as ‘helping people become interested in things they didn’t know they were interested in, until they are.’”

Among the vast array of topics Maria covers are Writing and Writers.

For a collection of advice from 52 writers, check out her post, Famous Advice on Writing: The Collected Wisdom of Great Writers (notice the internal scroll bar to see all 52).

For one particularly focused and fascinating post on writing, go to Good Writing vs. Talented Writing.

However, in her post, Brain Pickings: 7 Things I Learned in 7 Years of Reading, Writing, and Living ~ Reflections on how to keep the center solid as you continue to evolve, she has these points (do take the link and read what she says about each):

Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.

Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone.

Be generous.

Build pockets of stillness into your life.

Sleep.

When people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them.

Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity.

Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.

Since many writers attempt to subsidize their fiction writing by monetizing their blogs, I chose a video of Maria talking about alternatives to the ad-supported model:

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An Author’s Advice To His Child . . .


We’ve had 28 posts on this blog covering various aspects of “Writing Advice”

Of course, you can use the links in the Top Tags widget in the left side-bar to find all kinds of categories of posts or you can put search terms in the Search widget in the upper right corner :-)

As far as an author’s advice to his child, I have Maria Popova at Brain Pickings to thank for an article that features two letters from Sherwood Anderson to his son: Sherwood Anderson on Art and Life: A Letter of Advice to His Teenage Son, 1927.

I’ll be sharing one of those letters here and encouraging you to visit that last link to read the other letter :-)

Maria begins her article with these words:

“The quest to find one’s purpose and live the creative life boldly is neither simple nor easy, especially for a young person trying to make sense of the world and his place in it.”

And, even though Anderson’s letters to his son are addressed to a young man pursuing painting, I feel any young aspiring writer would benefit from reading them

And, the meaning of “young” writer could be expanded to include a writer of any age who is just beginning their writing journey.

Maria also links to the book these letters came from:

Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children

The first letter from Anderson to his son:

    The best thing, I dare say, is first to learn something well so you can always make a living. Bob seems to be catching on at the newspaper business and has had another raise. He is getting a good training by working in a smaller city. As for the scientific fields, any of them require a long schooling and intense application. If you are made for it nothing could be better. In the long run you will have to come to your own conclusion.

    The arts, which probably offer a man more satisfaction, are uncertain. It is difficult to make a living.

    If I had my own life to lead over I presume I would still be a writer but I am sure I would give my first attention to learning how to do things directly with my hands. Nothing gives quite the satisfaction that doing things brings.

    Above all avoid taking the advice of men who have no brains and do not know what they are talking about. Most small businessmen say simply — ‘Look at me.’ They fancy that if they have accumulated a little money and have got a position in a small circle they are competent to give advice to anyone.

    Next to occupation is the building up of good taste. That is difficult, slow work. Few achieve it. It means all the difference in the world in the end.

    I am constantly amazed at how little painters know about painting, writers about writing, merchants about business, manufacturers about manufacturing. Most men just drift.

    There is a kind of shrewdness many men have that enables them to get money. It is the shrewdness of the fox after the chicken. A low order of mentality often goes with it.

    Above all I would like you to see many kinds of men at first hand. That would help you more than anything. Just how it is to be accomplished I do not know. Perhaps a way may be found. Anyway, I’ll see you this summer. We begin to pack for the country this week.

    With love,

    Dad.

The part of this letter that stands out to me is:

“Above all avoid taking the advice of men who have no brains and do not know what they are talking about. Most small businessmen say simply — ‘Look at me.’ They fancy that if they have accumulated a little money and have got a position in a small circle they are competent to give advice to anyone.”

Just change “small businessmen” to “authors” and you’ve got what I would say to any aspiring writer :-)
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Blogging, The Way It “Should” Be Done . . .


I’ve been blogging for about four years—one of my previous blogs is now a book (8.5X11, hardbound with color pics for $172 or a Free Download :-)

This blog is a year and eight months old—I’m still learning how to Blog

However, there’s a woman who I feel has mastered the Art—Maria Popova.

I put the word “Should” in quotes in the title of this post to indicate it’s only my opinion that Maria is doing blogging the “right” way

I spend around 60 hours a month on this blog—Maria spends over 450

I have one post each Monday through Friday—Maria posts three times a day

Here’s what her About Page says:

Brain Pickings is the brain child of Maria Popova, an interestingness hunter-gatherer and curious mind at large, who also writes for Wired UK and The Atlantic, among others, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow. She gets occasional help from a handful of guest contributors.

Brain Pickings is a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.

Because creativity, after all, is a combinatorial force. It’s our ability to tap into the mental pool of resources — ideas, insights, knowledge, inspiration — that we’ve accumulated over the years just by being present and alive and awake to the world, and to combine them in extraordinary new ways. In order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these ideas and build new ideas — like LEGOs. The more of these building blocks we have, and the more diverse their shapes and colors, the more interesting our creations will become.

Brain Pickings is your LEGO treasure chest, full of pieces across art, design, science, technology, philosophy, history, politics, psychology, sociology, ecology, anthropology, you-name-itology. Pieces that enrich your mental pool of resources and empower you to combine them into original concepts that are stronger, smarter, richer, deeper and more impactful. Please enjoy.

I write about Reading, Writing, and Publishing—Maria writes about “art, design, science, technology, philosophy, history, politics, psychology, sociology, ecology, anthropology, and you-name-itology”

One of the most intriguing aspects of her blog is the Literary Jukebox—a “Daily quote from a favorite book, thematically matched with a song.”

Please visit her blog and see if it can become a valuable addition to your life.

Please come back and share your thoughts and feelings about her blog :-)
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How To Read Like A Writer


reading like a writer Writers read other creative writers to learn how to write.

So, who taught the first writer??  <<  Extra Bonus Points for good answers to that question in the Comments :-)

Maria Popova, “an interestingness hunter-gatherer and curious mind at large”, has appeared twice before in this blog, in the posts Learning from The Best ~ But, How Do You Find Them? and What Motivates Authors To Write ?

She’s the editor of Brain Pickings and recently offered insight into Francine Prose‘s book, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them.

By the way, Brain Pickings is described as “…your LEGO treasure chest, full of pieces across art, design, science, technology, philosophy, history, politics, psychology, sociology, ecology, anthropology, you-name-itology. Pieces that enrich your mental pool of resources and empower you to combine them into original concepts that are stronger, smarter, richer, deeper and more impactful.”

I’m subscribed to it and fully expect it to help me in my writing :-)

Now, back to Reading Like A Writer and a few snippets of quotes from Francine in Maria’s article, How To Read Like A Writer:

Concerning writers reading to learn how to write—“…the connection has to do with whatever mysterious promptings make you want to write. It’s like watching someone dance and then secretly, in your own room, trying out a few steps.”

“You will do yourself a disservice if you confine your reading to the rising star whose six-figure, two-book contract might seem to indicate where your own work should be heading.”

“The only time my passion for reading steered me in the wrong direction was when I let it persuade me to go to graduate school….I left graduate school and became a writer.”

Wikipedia has an article on Reading Like A Writer that includes synopses of the chapters and a very long list of authors that Ms. Prose uses in her book
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