Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

Tag Archives: Maria Popova

“These are scary and uncertain times…” ~ “What’s a writer’s calling…”


These are scary and uncertain times... ~ What's a writer's calling...

Image courtesy of Antonio Jiménez Alonso ~ http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/Capgros-58778

One week ago, I published a post called “Words Are My Matter” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin.

I’ve been reading that book and can recommend it to all Readers, Writers, and Publishers…

The other day, I got to a particular essay that had these words:

“Where am I to find strength and hope in this world? In my work, in trying to write well. What’s a writer’s calling, now or at any time? To write, to try to write well. What work will make a difference? Well-made work, honest work, writing well written. And how might we create a community of purpose? I can’t say.”

The thoughts in that essay are explored by Maria Popova in her article, Inner Preacher vs. Inner Teacher: Ursula K. Le Guin on Meaning Beyond Message and the Primary Responsibility of the Artist.

Le Guin wrote it a number of years ago and the words I quoted up there reminded me of the import of a relatively new “community of purpose” called Main Street Writers Movement—which is actually for “Writers, readers, booksellers, publishers, editors, publicists, agents, and anyone who wants to participate in the literary conversation.”

The Founder of that Movement, a publisher in the state of Oregon, wrote what I can consider an answer to Le Guin’s words, “…how might we create a community of purpose?” — the publisher said:

“These are scary and uncertain times, but we must continue to use our voices and to listen to our neighbors’ words. By signing this pledge, you’ll become an official member of the Main Street Writers Movement, earning you access to literary community building tools, industry insights, and connections with #mainstreetwriters who are creating new opportunities in their cities. We’ll send you a newsletter once a month with ways to get involved and ideas to make a difference….Let’s honor and amplify our communities’ underrepresented voices. Let’s buy from local bookstores and small presses. Let’s leave our houses and dance in the streets to the sound of each other’s words.”

Obviously, some folks wouldn’t see important connections between a highly-celebrated writer’s words and the words of an Indie publisher…

Yet, there are two things I’m certain of:

1. Reading Words Are My Matter will give you the mental and emotional tools to decide what readers, writers, and publishers need in these times…

2. Joining the Main Street Writers Movement will help you gain a sense of Community which could help inspire readers, writers, and publishers to accomplish what is needed in these times…

One other thing I’m sure of is that reading Le Guin’s other essay, Staying Awake ~ Notes on the alleged decline of reading, could help you find, in yourself, the motivation to read Words Are My Matter and join Main Street Writers Movement
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“Words Are My Matter” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin


Yesterday, I finally began reading Ursula K. Le Guin‘s, Words are My Matter : Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, with a Journal of a Writer’s WeekWords Are My Matter

I got a few pages in and had to put it down—strange because I’ve read her short stories and novellas and was always furiously eager to keep reading…

The difference with Words Are My Matter is that it contains Le Guin’s essays.

She carefully begins the book with an explanation of how radically different essay writing is from her more natural storytelling or poetry creation—and, her essays are so amazingly full with ripe ideas that I felt a need to slow down and digest…

Another thing I decided was that I would not collect excerpts for a blog post about the book—I saw no way to take such remarkable writing and pull out pieces to display…

However, I’d completely forgotten that I’d bookmarked an article from BrainPickingsUrsula K. Le Guin on Redeeming the Imagination from the Commodification of Creativity and How Storytelling Teaches Us to Assemble Ourselves.

Well, since Maria Popova, author of BrainPickings, has excerpted the book, I can “blame” her for “literary dissection” and share some of this book that all writers should read (non-writing readers and publishers would be well-served digesting it, too...)

“In America the imagination is generally looked on as something that might be useful when the TV is out of order. Poetry and plays have no relation to practical politics. Novels are for students, housewives, and other people who don’t work. Fantasy is for children and primitive peoples. Literacy is so you can read the operating instructions. I think the imagination is the single most useful tool mankind possesses. It beats the opposable thumb. I can imagine living without my thumbs, but not without my imagination.”

I should have mentioned, I’m not sharing All the excerpts from Maria’s article :-)

Here’s one about Literature:

“Nothing else does quite as much for most people, not even the other arts. We are a wordy species. Words are the wings both intellect and imagination fly on. Music, dance, visual arts, crafts of all kinds, all are central to human development and well-being, and no art or skill is ever useless learning; but to train the mind to take off from immediate reality and return to it with new understanding and new strength, nothing quite equals poem and story.”

And, why imagination is so important:

“All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. Without them, our lives get made up for us by other people.”

And, one last excerpt—begun in Maria’s article and searched for in Le Guin’s book by me (for more words than Maria used...), though I haven’t gone against my claim up there—“…I would not collect excerpts for a blog post about the book…”; because all I did was copy the beginning and paste it into my KIndle app—I grabbed this, I didn’t “collect” it :-)

“What a child needs, what we all need, is to find some other people who have imagined life along lines that make sense to us and allow some freedom, and listen to them. Not hear passively, but listen.

“Listening is an act of community, which takes space, time, and silence.

“Reading is a means of listening.

“Reading is not as passive as hearing or viewing. It’s an act: you do it. You read at your pace, your own speed, not the ceaseless, incoherent, gabbling, shouting rush of the media. You take in what you can and want to take in, not what they shove at you fast and hard and loud in order to overwhelm and control you. Reading a story, you may be told something, but you’re not being sold anything. And though you’re usually alone when you read, you are in communion with another mind. You aren’t being brainwashed or co-opted or used; you’ve joined in an act of the imagination.”

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Ursula K. Le Guin on Expanding Possibilities { and Other Important Topics }


Ursula K. Le Guin I don’t know if you know Ursula K. Le Guin—whether you know her writing, fiction and non-fiction

You might have read The Lathe of Heaven

Or, perhaps, The Dispossessed, The Word for World is Forest, or The Left Hand of Darkness

If you haven’t ever read her, use this link to explore more Le Guin

But, I’m going to focus on an article from Maria Popova’s site, Brain PickingsUrsula K. Le Guin on Power, Oppression, Freedom, and How Imaginative Storytelling Expands Our Scope of the Possible.

The first quote from Le Guin that Maria shares is:

“We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom. We cannot demand that anyone try to attain justice and freedom who has not had a chance to imagine them as attainable.”

Another quote shared by Maria, concerning oppression:

“If it were true that superior people refuse to be treated as inferiors, it would follow that those low in the social order are truly inferior, since, if they were superior, they’d protest; since they accept an inferior position, they are inferior. This is the comfortably tautological argument of the slave owner, the social reactionary, the racist, and the misogynist.”

On what we might have to do to learn what we need to know:

“Are there indeed tools that have not been invented, which we must invent in order to build the house we want our children to live in? Can we go on from what we know now, or does what we know now keep us from learning what we need to know? To learn what people of color, the women, the poor, have to teach, to learn the knowledge we need, must we unlearn all the knowledge of the whites, the men, the powerful?”

And, Le Guin speaking of what she attempts in her writing:

“To me the important thing is not to offer any specific hope of betterment but, by offering an imagined but persuasive alternative reality, to dislodge my mind, and so the reader’s mind, from the lazy, timorous habit of thinking that the way we live now is the only way people can live. It is that inertia that allows the institutions of injustice to continue unquestioned.”

And, circling around to the idea in the first quote:

“The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary. Having that real though limited power to put established institutions into question, imaginative literature has also the responsibility of power. The storyteller is the truthteller.”

There are writers who claim the importance of revealing life “just as it is”, with no “moral improvements”—some call them “realists”

Yet, we humans have the real ability (and, responsibility?) to imagine beyond what IS

Perhaps the characters of a story don’t end up total winners or shining exemplars

But, I feel, if they improved their lot, if they struggled to move an inch off their patch of inertia, the story is worth reading.

And, there have been many extremely satisfying stories where the protagonists die at the end; yet, they left a better situation for others

But, to write stories that imaginatively improve on some imagined absolute, to create a story that shows a possible world, a world which some would never reach unless the writer helped them imagine it—this is worthy writing.

And, all that is possible without soapboxes or pulpits.

Perhaps my own motto for worthwhile writing (whether you’re reading it or writing it) is “It doesn’t matter if it was hard, it matters that you did it.”
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#WritingAdvice


There are 66 posts about writing advice on this blog and they include this one since I tag my posts with keywords; so, if you take that last link, you might see this post again at the top of the list, unless I’ve written another post about writing advice before you take that link—ah, the ins and outs of the Internet :-)

Today’s post features another blog’s articles about writing advice

The blog is Brain Pickings and the blogger is Maria Popova and I wrote about her in my post, A Blog for All Seasons.

However, she has a particular post, Famous Advice on Writing: The Collected Wisdom of Great Writers, that may have a somewhat flamboyant title but does pack a severe punch

It’s essentially a link-post—as she says:

“By popular demand, I’ve put together a periodically updated reading list of all the famous advice on writing presented here over the years, featuring words of wisdom from such masters of the craft as Kurt Vonnegut, Susan Sontag, Henry Miller, Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Susan Orlean, Ernest Hemingway, Zadie Smith, and more.”

Maria has 109 links to various authors’ advice; and, here’s just a bit of advice from this author (especially, if you’re relatively new to the craft of writing)—it’s much better to read the books of other authors that have no writing advice than it is to read writing advice and not apply you’re own judgement to it.

Naturally, that would mean I’m actually sharing two pieces of advice:

  • Read a lot.
  • Write a lot

If you don’t do the second one, you can’t generate your own judgement to apply to the advice of other writers.

I know, that may sound quite convoluted; but, we’re talking about writing, not about baking bread—though, there may be a few tricks that can be transferred from baking to writing
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If you don’t see a way to comment (or, “reply”) after this post, try up there at the top right…
Read Some Strange Fantasies
Grab A Free Novel…
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#Wattpad #Authors & 2015’s Best Brain Pickings . . .


Another year… 

Tomorrow, this blog will be 5 years old—with 1,327 posts

Looking back in just the right way can help you look forward

One thing I definitely did right in 2015 was to engage with Wattpadexplained by them as “…a place to discover and share stories: a social platform that connects people through words. It is a community that spans borders, interests, languages. With Wattpad, anyone can read or write on any device: phone, tablet, or computer.”

Another thing I did was to enliven the already existing 60 Author Interviews by adding interviews with two Wattpad AuthorsHolly GonzalezJ. A. Partridge.

And, in case you’re not a follower of Maria Popova‘s blog, Brain Pickings, I’ll leave you with enough interesting reading to get you well into next year :-) 

“The paradoxical psychology of why we fall in love, what maturity really means, how our emotions affect our immune system, the transformative power of solitude, and a year’s worth more.”

The Best of Brain Pickings 2015

* Happy New Year *

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