Bukowski’s Letter of Gratitude to the Man Who Helped Him Quit His Soul-Sucking Job and Become a Full-Time Writer

“To not have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.” “Unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut,” Charles Bukowski wrote in his famous poem about what it takes to be a writer, “don’t do it.” But Bukowski himself...

David Foster Wallace on Writing, Self-Improvement, and How We Become Who We Are

“Good writing isn’t a science. It’s an art, and the horizon is infinite. You can always get better.” In late 1999, David Foster Wallace — poignant contemplator of death and redemption, tragic prophet of the meaning of life, champion of intelligent entertainment, admonisher against blind ambition, advocate of true leadership — called the office of...

Nietzsche’s 10 Rules for Writers

“Style ought to prove that one believes in an idea; not only that one thinks it but also feels it.” More than a century before Elmore Leonard’s ten rules of writing inspired similar sets of commandments by Neil Gaiman, Zadie Smith, and Margaret Atwood, one of humanity’s greatest minds did precisely that. Between August 8...

The Best-Kept Secret of Clichés: How to Upgrade Our Uses and Abolish Our Abuses of Language

A manifesto against mindless language, or how to get off autopilot in the art of communication. “Aphoristic thinking is impatient thinking,” Susan Sontag wrote in her diary in 1980, lamenting the commodification of wisdom. But there is a yet greater abuse of language that bespeaks such impatience that bleeds into cognitive laziness — the aphorism’s...

Jeanette Winterson on Time, Language, Reading, and How Art Creates a Sanctified Space for the Human Spirit

“Art can make a difference because it pulls people up short. It says, don’t accept things for their face value; you don’t have to go along with any of this; you can think for yourself.” In September of 1994, beloved British writer Jeanette Winterson joined Canadian broadcaster Eleanor Wachtel on the air for a spectacular...

The Relationship Between Creativity and Mental Illness

The science behind the “tortured genius” myth and what it reveals about how the creative mind actually works. “I think I’ve only spent about ten percent of my energies on writing,” Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Katherine Anne Porter confessed in a 1963 interview. “The other ninety percent went to keeping my head above water.” While art...

Ray Bradbury on Failure, Why We Hate Work, and the Importance of Love in Creative Endeavors

How working for the wrong motives poisons our creativity and warps our ideas of success and failure. “A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play,” the French writer Chateaubriand is credited with saying. “He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and...

Leonard Cohen on Creativity, Hard Work, and Why You Should Never Quit Before You Know What It Is You’re Quitting

“The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines.” Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist Leonard Cohen (b. September 21, 1934) is among the most exhilarating creative spirits of the past century. Recipient of the prestigious Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and countless other accolades, and an ordained Rinzai Buddhist...

Chinua Achebe on the Meaning of Life and the Writer’s Responsibility in Society

The difference between blind optimism and the urge to improve the world’s imperfection. “A writer,” E.B. White asserted in a fantastic 1969 interview, “should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.” A quarter century later, another literary titan articulated the...

How to Write Fat Books: Walter Benjamin’s Principles of the Weighty Tome

A seven-point blueprint to the dark arts of filling pages. “The author is cheating the reader as soon as he writes for the sake of filling up paper,” 19th-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer admonished in contemplating the ethics of authorship. A century and a half later, Susan Sontag opined that true literature “is actually just this...

Joyce Carol Oates on What Hemingway’s Early Stories Can Teach Us About Writing and the Defining Quality of Great Art

On the elusive gift of blending austerity of craft with elasticity of allure. Besides being one of the most influential, beloved, and prolific authors of our time, Joyce Carol Oates is also a person of extraordinary capacity for beholding beauty. In a recent conversation at The New York Public Library’s excellent Books at Noon series,...

C.S. Lewis on the Three Ways of Writing for Children and the Key to Authenticity in All Writing

“The only moral that is of any value is that which arises inevitably from the whole cast of the author’s mind.” “I don’t write for children,” the late and great Maurice Sendak said in his final interview. “I write — and somebody says, ‘That’s for children!’” J.R.R. Tolkien had memorably articulated the same sentiment seven...

Willa Cather on Writing Through Troubled Times: A Moving Letter to Her Younger Brother

“The test of one’s decency is how much of a fight one can put up after one has stopped caring, and after one has found out that one can never please the people they wanted to please.” How does one keep going when the going gets really, really tough? From The Selected Letters of Willa...

William Styron on Why Formal Education Is a Waste of Time for Writers

“For a person whose sole burning ambition is to write — like myself — college is useless beyond the Sophomore year.” William Styron (June 11, 1925–November 1, 2006) is one of the most beloved writers of the past century, in large part due to his confident idealism and dogged determination about writing. It was a...

Dani Shapiro on Vulnerability, the Creative Impulse, the Writing Life, and How to Live with Presence

“The job — as well as the plight, and the unexpected joy — of the artist is to embrace uncertainty, to be sharpened and honed by it. To be birthed by it.” Dani Shapiro is the author of the magnificent memoirs Devotion, Slow Motion: A Memoir of a Life Rescued by Tragedy and, most recently,...

How to Pitch Yourself: A Lesson from Young Eudora Welty’s Impossibly Charming Job Application to The New Yorker

An exquisite yin-yang balance of erudition and irreverence, dignity and self-deprecation. “Only when we take ourselves lightly can we take ourselves seriously, so that we are given the courage to say, ‘Yes! I dare disturb the universe,’” Madeleine L’Engle riffed on T.S. Eliot in her magnificent meditation on creativity. But in the quest to find...