“If your everyday life seems poor to you, do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon up its riches; since for the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place.”
Rainer Maria Rilke
I recommend reading Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. This book is a collection of letters 27-year-old Rilke wrote to a 19-year-old cadet who was seeking guidance and feedback on his poetry.
His book will ground you and connect you to the true beauty of creating art…of being an artist. He reminds us that the beauty is in expressing our true selves through our craft, not in expecting fame or money.
“One line of dialogue that rings true reveals character in a way that pages of description can’t.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Natalie Goldberg recommends that you listen carefully to dialogue and speech when you are in public places. Yes, it’s eavesdropping. But it’s also professional development. You’re not listening to be nosy. You’re listening so that you can be a better writer. Listen carefully to cadences, slang, vocabulary and observe mannerisms, facial expressions and reaction times.
How do people reveal themselves? What are they wearing? What does disappointment look like? What about fear? Joy?
“The very first thing I tell my students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth.”
Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird
The truth. It’s clear we want the truth, even in fiction. We can spot a lie within a fiction story instantly. That character would never do that! And then we get angry. Have you ever watched your favorite TV series and then someone does something completely out of character and it makes you so angry you quit watching? Ahhhh…for the love of ratings!
Great art is about presenting the truth. It has to come honestly from the heart, not from the desire to shock or manipulate emotions or increase your follower count.
Lamott emphasizes throughout her book the importance of allowing the characters to come to you and to reveal themselves to you. She cautions against inserting dialogue, action and plot that doesn’t emanate naturally from the characters. It will sound forced because it IS forced.
I’m not a painter, sculptor, photographer or actor, but I believe this philosophy pertains to all arts. As a famous sculptor once said,
“…a knot of wood or a block of marble made it seem that a figure was already enclosed there and my work consisted of breaking off all the rough stone that hid it from me”.”\
Artists are powerful because they appeal to people’s hearts and minds. Painters, sculptors, writers, musicians and other artists are changemakers. Writers, for example, can be drivers for social equity.
Two Asian actors in “Hawaii Five-O” just left the show. When they signed on, they were the big names. No one really knew the two white lead actors (Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan). Daniel Dae Kim was coming from “Lost” and Grace Park was famous for her work in “Battlestar Galactica.” The Asian actors were really the draw for the show. Now, seven years later, the Asian actors are still not making as much money as the lesser known leads.
NPR had an intriguing and informative interview with writer Rick Najera and Jeff Yang (podcast host). Najera made the assertion that the power lies in the hands of the writers:
NAJERA: The writers’ room can decide whether that actor is a supporting actor or a leading actor. So it’s very easy to make that decision. So you can sit there and say, well, we have two Asian actors on a show set in Hawaii, which is predominately very Asian, let’s make them leads. They can make that decision early on. I think Hollywood’s kind of catching up to that thought and wants to. It’s just everyone in Hollywood wants to be second, no one wants to be first.
I believe artists outside of Hollywood – the independent filmmakers and artists – are the people who will make (are making) this happen.
Hello all, I published this two years ago. I thought I’d publish it again for those of you who may have missed it:
“If you really want to do something, you’re going to have to go for it.”
Marie Myung-Ok Lee
I first learned about Marie when I was researching Korean-American history for a San Francisco State University’s ethnic studies class I was going to teach for Dr. Grace Yoo (during her sabbatical). Her book, Somebody’s Daughter, expertly covers both the adopted child/adult’s perspective as well as that of the adoptee within two cultures. Marie Myung-Ok Lee is a Korean-American author and essayist, writing often for The New York Times, The Atlantic and Newsweek. She’s been published in Witness, The Kenyon Review, TriQuarterly and Slate. She teaches creative writing at Brown University and Columbia University.
If you’re interested in being a writer, Marie is sure to inspire you. She is not only an accomplished writer, but a loving mother to an autistic teenage boy. Her essay for The Atlantic Monthly “What My Son’s Disabilities Taught Me About ‘Having It All’” is one of the most moving, enlightening articles I have ever read.
Despite her extremely busy schedule (she’s working on her next novel), she graciously and generously spoke with me on the phone. She is a modest, hard-working, intelligent and creative person. When I informed her of my objective with my blog (to help others achieve goals by reading of people who have already accomplished them), she got right to the point:
“I constantly write. Every single day from 4:30am to 6pm. I never take a day off.” She lives in NYC in a small apartment with her husband (a professor), and their son. Previous to writing, she was an investment banker for five years. Although writing does not even come close to the money she made before, Marie couldn’t be happier with her work, “I love it.”
Another tip: “I get 10 rejections to each offer. You have to be committed to writing. If you really want to do something, you’re going to have to go for it.”
Marie is down-to-earth, honest and practical. When I congratulated her on all of her great work, she was quick to point out that it took her eight years to write her novel, and that she couldn’t live on her salary alone. The family is on her husband’s insurance and she constantly juggles motherhood and her work. When she left banking, she was a ghost writer, a freelancer, an editor. She obtained fellowships and worked hard at her novel.
Wanting it, working hard, sacrificing hours each and every day, utilizing your strengths (and challenges)…going for your passions: these are the secrets to her success.
Marie’s most recent article can be found here, on Salon.com. She provides a careful analysis of the McKinney, TX pool party incident, tying in a personal example of mistreatment by an adult when she was a teenager.
You can follow Marie Myung-Ok Lee on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MarieLeeWriter