Two Links on What to Keep and What to Let Go

Longreads: On ‘Art Heroes’ and Letting Your Idols Be Human

[Nick Cave’s] musings on grief are, as they have always been, profound. The Red Hand Files, which usually arrive early in the morning, here in Eastern Standard Time, often feel like letters about all that make being human worthwhile to me — art, love, loss, tenderness, and introspection. I read them at 5 or 6 a.m., often reveling in the gift this artist is giving us all.

Except for when he’s not.

Because there have also been times when I’ve been so disappointed with Cave and the project that I wanted to unsubscribe.

99% Invisible: Weeding Is Fundamental

For the sections [of the library] that do have to get weeded, weeding is generally a touchy subject. The reason why is probably already clear to you: people don’t like the idea of books being thrown away. We love books. And no one loves books more than librarians. It can be hard for them too. 

Weeding is normal and necessary, but the big problem was that after the earthquake, the San Francisco Public Library started getting rid of an unusual amount of books. The librarians were told to move quickly. And they didn’t use MUSTY. Or any sort of comparable system.

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I Am SO EXCITED to Read Seanan McGuire’s Middlegame

I’m pretty sure I got to be the first person to check out Seanan McGuire’s new book Middlegame from the library, because it is in my apartment RIGHT NOW and also because I put a library hold on a copy four months ago.

Here’s the blurb:

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.

Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.

Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.

Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

And here are the two related articles you should read this weekend:

Whatever: The Big Idea: Seanan McGuire

This is the book that took me ten years of writing basically constantly before I could call myself good enough to write it.

That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best thing I’ve ever written, or that it’s going to be anyone’s new favorite, although of course, I hope both those things are true. It just means that from a sheer craft standpoint, it took me a very long time to get all the skills necessary to write what is essentially an alchemical superhero story about family, connection, and time travel. Juggling the various timelines this story required a level of precision that I had to work my way up to. I’m still a little stunned that I was able to manage it. And as the reviews have come in, even the ones that didn’t like the book have been forced to admit that I managed my timelines well, which is really all I had any right to hope for.

Tor: “Sit down, write, keep writing” — Seanan McGuire on the Daily Process of Writing a Novel Like Middlegame

This is my process: I get out of bed, having already assigned myself tasks for the day which include which projects I will be (need to be) working on; these assignments are based on my deadlines, unless I’ve managed to get far enough ahead of deadline to buy myself some free time. When I have free time, it’s less recess, and more free study: I get to work on projects that haven’t necessarily been sold yet, or aren’t slated to be, like the free short stories on my website. The words happen every day that it’s possible, and some days when it really shouldn’t be (Disney World or San Diego Comic Con are both environments that are very antithetical to getting actual work done).

And here I am telling myself that I’m not going to work on NEXT BOOK while I’m at Disney World. Now I might have to tell myself to live up to Seanan’s example. ❤️

One More Thought on The Hustle

Look, I’m not saying I agree with Danielle Steel, but this is an interesting piece of synchronicity:

Steel struggles with the idea of burnout culture, the “millennial affliction” of being completely exhausted by work and the world. She recounts a conversation with her son and his partner; both are in their twenties. Her son told her that he never works past a certain time at the office, a model of that elusive work-life balance. Steel balks. “They expect to have a nice time,” she says. “And pardon me, but I think your twenties and a good part of your thirties are about working hard so that you have a better quality of life later on. I mean, I never expected that quality of life at 25. I had three jobs at the same time, and after work I wrote. Now it’s a promise that it’s all going to be fun.”

Read the full article at Glamour, just because it’s great (Danielle Steel writes at a desk shaped like giant Danielle Steel books, for starters), and then… um… think about how that quote ties in to everything else I’ve published this week:

Brandon Stanton’s thoughts on when to hustle and when to ease up

My review of Juliet’s School of Possibilities (and its reference to my review of Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You)

Em Burfitt’s guest post on why she likes writing for content mills (for now)

There does seem to be an unexpected theme here, even though I am also very very very very in favor of work-life balance. You hustle better if you give yourself time to rest between sprints, after all. ❤️

When to Ease Up on the Hustle

I don’t know if you saw this tweet or not, but I’ve been thinking about it all weekend:

The screencapped text is from Brandon Stanton’s Patreon, and I will admit that I feel a little weird about sharing text he originally reserved for Patreon subscribers (and did not elect to tweet himself, as you’ll notice), but maybe more people will subscribe after seeing the tweet? Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself?

Anyway, if you don’t want to read tiny print, here’s the important part:

I think for every successful artist and entrepreneur, a good portion of their psychology remains anchored in the early days. When nothing was working. When nobody cared. When nobody was paying attention. When it felt like you were in a giant hole and the only way out was to work harder, and harder, and harder. And you were always scared that you were going to fail, unless you stay focused. And don’t stop. Don’t ever stop. Then suddenly it’s ten years later, and somehow you’ve made it. But you feel like the only reason you made it is because you didn’t stop. And you must keep going. Because there’s an hour of daylight left. And you can still fit in one more interview…

But you shouldn’t.

Because things are different now.

Things are definitely “different now” for me. I’m not worried about whether I can pay my rent this month, or whether I’ll be able to build a career and a reputation as a writer. On the other hand, I’m nowhere near the point where I can afford to go without continuous paying work—and I’m smart enough to know that if I want to keep booking work a year from now or two years from now, I need to keep building my skills and portfolio and network and readership.

So in my case, it’s figuring out the balance between not hustling every second and not letting my hustle slide to the point where I’m not growing.

I am very sure I haven’t found that balance yet.

What about you? ❤️

On Content That Makes Money and Projects That Don’t

Matt Zoller Seitz: Avengers, MCU, Game of Thrones, and the Content Endgame

This weekend saw the release of “Endgame” and the premiere of “The Long Night,” the longest and biggest episode of “Game of Thrones,” the most lavishly produced fantasy series in TV history, and one of the last series that people watch as a group, episode by episode, week by week, experiencing big moments as a single unified audience. One is a movie experience that takes many of its stylistic cues from television. The other is a television experience that strives to be thought of as cinematic. Both are mega-entertainments that are meant to be experienced on the largest screen possible (theatrical or home) in the presence of others. Both will ultimately be viewed on the handheld device that (according to our own statistics) 65% of you are using to read this essay. They’re just two more pieces in the content stream, bigger and shinier than all others, but ultimately things to discuss on social media, bond over, and quickly move beyond. The state of the art. 

This is it. 

This is where it was all leading, whether we realized it or not. 

This essay is SO GOOD and SO TRUE.

Seth Godin: When Your Project Isn’t Making Money

It might be that you’re too early to the market.

There are early adopters, certainly, but maybe not enough, or not willing to pay your price…

Being too early also means that your costs are higher and your forward motion is slower.

And it might be that you’re too late.

Which means that the people who were interested, interesting and willing to pay extra already have their needs met, and all you’re left with is bottom-fishing, bargain-hunting late adopters.

This piece lists all of the reasons why small projects fail. It’s already digging into the dark sticky parts of my brain, the small percentage of my mindset that isn’t perpetually optimistic.

It’s honest, in a way that all of the “try hard and you can succeed” essays are not.

It also offers some hope, at the end. ❤️

Three Articles About Pop Culture Phenomena

Slate: A Definitive Ranking of the Avengers’ New Hairstyles in Endgame

Avengers: Endgame offers many surprises, but foremost among them is the haircuts. While a couple of these new hairstyles have been spotted in the movie’s trailers by eagle-eyed viewers, Marvel kept most of them under lock and key, rightfully regarding them as one of the film’s biggest twists. What do our heroes’ updated manes reveal—and more importantly, how do they look? Below, we count down the Avengers’ new 2024 ’dos, from worst to best.

As a person who recently made a BIG HAIR CHANGE that just happened to coincide with a big life change, I totally sympathized with this post. (Especially the part where I haven’t really figured out how to style my new hair yet.)

Vox: “Khaleesi” became shorthand for a strong, empowered woman, but Daenerys Targaryen may be Game of Thrones’ final villain.

The showrunners didn’t just decide Dany was good until they needed her to be bad. Her story was always supposed to end this way, but it’s hard to capture a book character’s nuances — and, you know, her budding despotic tendencies — on a show that also has to give screentime to dozens of other characters. Our culture’s rampant Dany identification is the result of flat characterization: If all her choices are framed and marketed as unambiguously feminist and just, the audience will buy it. If the show had played sinister music or put a darker filter over her scenes, would the audience feel the same way about her?

I don’t actually think Dany will be the final villain—but I do think she’ll have to account for her actions.

Longreads: When Did Pop Culture Become Homework?

Creating art to dominate this discursive landscape turns that art into a chore — in other words, cultural homework. This is where people start saying things like, “Do I HAVE to watch Captain Marvel?” and “feeling a lot of pressure to read sally rooney!”and “do i have to listen to the yeehaw album?” This kind of coercion has been known to cause an extreme side effect — reactance, a psychological phenomenon in which a person who feels their freedom being constricted adopts a combative stance, turning a piece of art we might otherwise be neutral about into an object of derision. The Guardian’s Oliver Burkeman called it “cultural cantankerousness” and used another psychological concept, optimal distinctiveness theory, to further explain it. That term describes how people try to balance feeling included and feeling distinct within a social group. Burkeman, however, favored his reactance as a form of self-protective FOMO avoidance. “My irritation at the plaudits heaped on any given book, film or play is a way of reasserting control,” he wrote. “Instead of worrying about whether I should be reading Ferrante, I’m defiantly resolving that I won’t.” (This was written in 2016; if it were written now, I’m sure he would’ve used Rooney).

Fun fact: I tried reading Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends, got a few chapters in, and decided I was too old for the book—not because I was older than the protagonist, since I read plenty of novels about people both younger and older than me, but because the questions the characters were trying to answer were questions I had already outgrown.

In other words: not every pop culture phenomena is for everybody, and that’s fine. ❤️

Two Articles About Writing and One Short Story About Taxes

Chicago Review of Books: Richard Powers: Writing ‘The Overstory’ Quite Literally Changed My Life

I began to imagine what they must have looked like, those forests that would not return for centuries, if ever. It seemed to me that we had been at war for a long time, trees and people, and I wondered if it might be possible for things ever to go any other way. Within a few months, I quit my job at Stanford and devoted myself full time to writing The Overstory.

Earlier this week, The Overstory won the Pulitzer Prize—and it is very, very worth reading, so go check it out if you haven’t already.

LitHub: Unsilencing the Writing Workshop

When we unsilence workshop, when we invite students to participate in the discussion of their own work, everything changes: the writer is no longer passively accepting comments. Rather, they become who they should be: the creators and navigators of their own work.

The workshoppers, in turn, are asked to do less prescribing (I want to see more of this; I want this or that to happen; I didn’t want that character to be here) and more questioning. Why did you use first-person? How important is the sister character supposed to be? Instead of a typical old-school workshop comment such as “I want to see more about the mother,” there’s a question: “We don’t see much about the mother—how important of a character is she?” The former is a demand; the latter is an opening.

YES. I AGREE. ONE HUNDRED PERCENT.

The Paris Review: As Certain as Death and Taxes

The job I had before was for an investment advice publisher, where I learned that I liked numbers. I liked that the number four was always four and no one could argue with you about that. Every number had its own narrative power, even if you couldn’t see it right away. When a number changed, or when you expected it to and it didn’t change, that meant someone out there in the world had done something to make that happen. People made big decisions because of a little number. Everyone had a theory and a prediction about it. I had been an English major, but I didn’t feel out of place in the class. The theories we read and studied were really about people, and the tax return was a way of telling their stories.

Remember—this one’s fiction. ❤️

Weekend Link Roundup

There’s no unifying theme to these links besides “I liked them,” so here we go:

Laura Vanderkam: A New Habit, One Month In

If I were to describe a typical day, it would definitely involve my weight routine. However, for various reasons, I did the routine 3/5 weekdays the week of March 4, 4/5 weekdays the week of March 11, 4/5 weekdays the week of March 18, 2/5 weekdays the week of March 25, and 4/5 weekdays the week of April 1st. I did my weight routine every day I could reasonably be in my office at 8:10, but during that month, I had two morning kid conferences, two work trips requiring travel, one morning where I hadn’t managed to eat (so I elected to do that before jumping on my first phone call) and one morning where I had to shovel snow off the driveway.

In other words, what I might be tempted to describe as my “daily” habit never happened more than 4 times per week.

The Washington Post: There are certain realities in being an upright mammal over 50. Let me tell you a few.

Exercise and clean food help keep a body in working order. But there are certain realities involved in being an upright mammal over 50. Menopause is an eight- to 10-year tsunami of distressing and unpredictable symptoms. Everything in an aging body feels drier from muscles to skin. Though my husband and I both work out, weigh what the charts say we should and wear ugly $200 shoes with special cushioned soles, our feet hurt like crazy at the end of every day.

It’s a tightrope walk, knowing what to give in to and what to fight. 

The Outline: Content Is Coming: How Game of Thrones Coverage Broke the Internet

If there’s anything I’ve learned from covering culture on the internet in the 2010s, it’s that 1) Thrones-related content does very well and 2) you, too, may be asked to create it, because it does very well. As the series prepares to wrap after eight seasons, it will leave a hole in the content economy that could only be filled by another Game of Thrones.

Lastly, go read this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal webcomic about what makes us human. Trust me. ❤️

Three Articles on the Creative Practice

Catapult: Watchword: A Writer Should Keep the Future in Mind

It is hard to be straightforward. It’s hard to be yourself. I don’t know why, but both statements are true. “The artist,” I believe, represents a mode of living best examined both from the outside, as an object, and from within, as a living, daily, and often frustrating practice—with the goal of becoming more straightforward, and being yourself.

I love everything about this Mensah Demary essay. Go read it twice.

Verabee: How the Sausage Gets Made

I thought it might be fun to show how I paint a page of my book from start to finish. I know I’m always curious about how artists work, maybe you are too.

Hat tip to Lucy Bellwood for sharing this link on Twitter, which is how I found it. (Also, I’m just now realizing that Verabee is Vera Brosgol, whom I met at a creative retreat in Juneau, Alaska a few years ago. Her book Leave Me Alone! is great, trust me.)

LitHub: On the Daily Rituals of Joan Didion, Patti Smith, and More

In 2005, Didion told an interviewer that she typically spends “most of the day working on a piece not actually putting anything on paper, just sitting there, trying to form a coherent idea and then maybe something will come to me about five in the afternoon and then I’ll work for a couple of hours and get three or four sentences, maybe a paragraph.” The slowness of the writing process stems, Didion has said, from the sheer difficulty of thinking clearly. “Writing,” she said in 2011, “forces you to think.”

I can’t be the only person who finds these kinds of interviews fascinating, if not inspiring. ❤️