3 From WD: Quotes on staying sane, avoiding genius, and keeping the business of writing separate from the creativity

On this WD Mag Wednesday, here’s a (semi-random) quote trio that stuck in my mind after our March/April issue went to bed, followed, of course, by a prompt. And be sure to check back Friday—I’ll be in Chicago doing nerdy things like a Devil in the White City tour, and WD Editor Jessica Strawser will be prompting, so stop in and say hey.

1. “The single wisest thing ever said about creative writing was this, from Elsa Lasker-Schüler: ‘A real poet does not say azure. A real poet says blue.’ Of course Vladimir Nabokov practiced the opposite, and the greatest writer of the last century, Marcel Proust, never walked a straight line in his life. Genius is not only a special case, it is almost always a disastrous influence upon others. I am not saying that one ought not to take risks; there is a sense of daring in every fine story, but the risk is in the depth of psychological truth or the boldness of conception (Aristotle’s example of both is that tale in which a detective discovers the murderer of his father is himself) and not in empty experiments with technique or form.” —Leslie Epstein, from his MFA Insider column “Tips for Writing and for Life”

2. “There is something inside of a person that makes them be a writer in the first place. That’s a strong and true thing. And you can have your head turned very easily by the business of writing. It’s so important to keep it church and state—keep it separate. The process of writing and creating and answering that very unique call inside yourself has nothing to do with agents and sales and all that.” —Elizabeth Berg, from The WD Interview “The Art of Writing True”

(And, that said, when creativity has worked its magic and the act of submitting potentially comes into play—)

3. “I never quit. While I was waiting to hear back on one book, I began writing another. It kept me sane, and it was great to have completed work that I could discuss with a potential agent or editor. It also shows that you’re committed to writing and serious about creating a career.” —Debut novelist Mara Purnhagen, as interviewed in the Breaking In column

(Image: Pixomar)

* * * 

WRITING PROMPT: First comes love, then comes marriage …
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500
words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.
By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional
around-the-office swag drawings. If you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail your story to me at
writersdigest@fwmedia.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.

A man pushes a baby carriage. Passing him on the street, you look inside—and
stop in your tracks.

how to help your writing career survive—and grow—in the
current economy. Break into corporate writing. Discover the art of taxes
for writers. Absorb lessons and insights from an author-turned-agent.
Read Elizabeth Berg’s thoughts on life after Oprah. Click

here to check the March/April 2010 issue of WD out.

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4 thoughts on “3 From WD: Quotes on staying sane, avoiding genius, and keeping the business of writing separate from the creativity

  1. Zac

    Not picky at all, Lydia. You made it work!

    And although I’m a little late saying it, thanks for penning the awesome pieces on this prompt, everyone.

  2. Lydia Sharp

    A brief note: I wrote this and then came back to post and realized I goofed up the prompt. I interpreted "a man pushing a baby carriage" as "a man passes a baby carriage" so some of the details here are not quite right. I thought I’d post it anyway, and let you decide how picky you want to be. 🙂

    Every morning, I go through the same ritual. I get out of bed, take a piss, then look in the mirror and thank myself for being alive.

    That’s right, I thank myself. Not a higher power, or an elusive being such as fate or destiny. Within the confines of my own body and mind, I hold the prospect of living another day. Breathing. Eating. Sleeping. And all the little details in between those essentials. I do them because I can, and the only reason I can is because I allow myself that privilege by not committing suicide in some way.

    It’s all on my shoulders, so I merely give credit where credit is due. This morning is no different.

    The previous day’s rainfall had evaporated with the sunrise, and now a smattering of cottonball clouds spread across the crisp blue sky. I can’t reject this offer for a climatically perfect jog through the neighborhood before the midday heat settles in.

    There’s a pair of early bird women on the sidewalk ahead. One of them is pushing a baby stroller, but I can’t see the child within. It’s facing away from me, and away from the women as well. As I come up behind them and pass, I wonder if they’re lesbians, or just really good friends who spend the night together and then take early morning walks with an infant that may or may not have been biologically related to them.

    Lesbian couples never bothered me, and not just because I’m a guy. Any child would be lucky to have two mothers.

    Jogging is good for your health–relieves stress and improves cardiac functions, among other things–but I’ll admit that some days I’d rather count all the commas in the morning paper than lace up my sneakers and hit the pavement. Today the urge to run is unexplainably strong, like an itch that refuses to subside despite constant scratching.

    I sail around the third corner of the city block, sweat trickling down the valley of my spine, and see the same female couple ahead, this time, facing me. Tiny arms flail inside the bassinet. Active little thing. The women are oblivious, chattering on about some upcoming event.

    The child is uncharacteristically quiet. My legs pump harder. Faster. Until I’m right in front of the stroller and I stop, staring at a head colored every shade of purple. On instinct, I lift the baby, turn its face downward, and sweep a finger in its mouth.

    One woman yelps, the other screams an obscenity. The baby is pulled away. Silence. Then coughing and crying. There’s a slimy Cheerio in my hand.

    I drop it and continue jogging. The women, now behind me again, praise me with every known expression of gratitude.

    When I get home, I pick up the phone and dial. A familiar voice answers and I start a new morning ritual.

    "Thanks, Mom."

    "For what, dear?"

    "For taking care of me when I couldn’t. You’re the reason I’m alive today."

  3. Mandy

    On most days she loved the feel of her sneakered feet on the concrete and a breeze not brought courtesy of Trane on her face, but today’s walk just felt like a chore. Something else to do before she could finally collapse on the couch. Gracie had launched into a spirited bark-fest the minute her car pulled into the driveway. She may not always notice “leave it” when spoken with the calm authority Karen had learned to use in obedience school, but she never failed to stir at the merest hint that a walk might be imminent. Karen couldn’t really blame her, she had a touch of selective attention herself.

    While Gracie stopped to examine the Foster’s blooming tulips, Karen spots a fellow post-work stroller up ahead. The sight catches her selective attention primarily because of the familiar gait (could that really be Jim in her neighborhood) and the fact that it looks like the guy is pushing a baby carriage. Not a stroller, but what used to be called a perambulator, the kind of thing that looks like a crib on wheels with a lacy awning. Who actually owns and uses a baby carriage? Certainly not Jim, Mr. I Don’t Actually Want Children, I Just Made You Think I Did for Awhile So I Could Sleep with You. Certainly not him.

    Attempting the calm authoritarian “leave it” she had been practicing, she managed to get Gracie to pick up the pace so she could check this out. The closer she got, the more she was sure it was Jim. In spite of the weird baby carriage prop, she recognized the faded mid-90’s concert t-shirt that only a very few die-hard fans hadn’t gotten rid of long ago. That was the thing about Jim though, the guy flatly refused to admit that he was no longer in his 20’s.

    “Hey Jim!” she called in what she hoped sounding like a friendly hello and not like the what-the-hell are you doing here you commitment phobe assault that it actually was.

    “Oh hi Karen and ……. Gracie. Looks like Gracie is doing well”. He sounded shy and almost shaky. Odd. Jim didn’t really do shaky.

    “Yeah, she’s a pretty happy little dog. So, what are you doing walking around the burbs with a baby carriage?” The words sounded accusatory even to her ears, but it hardly mattered, she wanted to know.

    “Well, Gina needed a break and so I decided to get outside and get some air. The walking really calms her down. The baby I mean, not Gina.”

    “The baby? I know it’s been a few months, but ….”

    “Gina.” He practically spit the word into the middle of her sentence. “Gina had the baby back in February and I’ve been trying to do what I can to help out”.

    Karen was fairly certain that the words kept coming, but she didn’t hear anymore after that. All she could hear was the word Gina. The way his voice had sounded when he said it. An echo of the way that word had always sounded in his mouth. Close and intimate. Gina, his friend from work had a new baby that Jim was helping out with?!! Her math skills were never great and math under pressure was certainly not her friend, but she was pretty sure that the news of this baby would have come right when Jim suddenly just couldn’t do it anymore. So I’m Not Father Material Jim had left her for prissy, pregnant British Gina who made him push a BABY CARRIAGE in public?!!

    This was more than she could handle. She should have just let Gracie bark, the dog would have gotten tired and abandoned her hope of a walk eventually. Of course, that option was off the table. All she could do now was concentrate on holding a pleasant expression on her face while ushering Gracie in the opposite direction.

    “Well, good luck with that Jim. Enjoy the walk.”

    Her feet made their way towards home and the waiting comfort of the couch. Settling in beside Gracie, she couldn’t get the image of that ridiculous baby carriage out of her mind.

  4. Mark James

    Zac, those are great quotes.

    I was walking through the park, didn’t expect her to be there.

    Well, I guess what I really didn’t expect was that she would be pushing a baby carriage. It was pink. She had to be kidding.

    I thought about ducking behind a tree before she saw me. But I was in a park full of kids and new moms. I don’t know what it is about women who just had babies, but they see a man jump behind a tree, they get all nervous. Go figure.

    She started coming toward me. I couldn’t talk, couldn’t turn back. I could have sat on the bench with the new moms. But I didn’t think my black leather jacket and biker boots would fit in with all that pastel. They looked like spring flowers nodding in the wind.

    I tried to act casual, hoped I could walk right by her. But, sure enough, she saw me.


    I didn’t stop. I thought if I kept moving, maybe she’d think it was a mistake.

    "I know it’s you,” she said. “I’d know that walk anywhere."

    That’s not all she’d know about me. I dropped my head, walked across the little bridge over the fake pond.

    She got louder. A ripple went through the pastel on the bench. The new moms had scented me. They eyed me like I was a bald eagle about to swoop down and swipe their kids right from the strollers.

    I turned around like I was noticing her for the first time. “Is that you?"

    She held out the hem of her pink skirt, twirled like she was on a runway. "Came out pretty, don’t you think?"

    I thought everything came out really good, considering her name was Samuel last time I saw her. Him. I never knew how to handle memories when it came to her. Him. "Looks like you decided to go with blonde.”

    "You know how I am," she said.

    Yeah I did. I wasn’t surprised about the hair. "Where’d you get the baby?"

    She pressed a finger to her cheek. I couldn’t help noticing how smooth her skin was, how pink, how soft she looked all over. "Don’t be silly,” she said. " You know where babies come from.”

    "I didn’t know they could do that now,” I said.

    "You’d be surprised what they can do.” She waved me over. "Come look at him.”

    The last thing I wanted was to look inside that carriage. But all the new moms were still eyeing me. Maybe if leaned over and smiled at the baby, they’d let me slide and not dial 911. I closed the distance between us, and peeked inside the carriage. "Where did you get –“

    She giggled, the way she used to when she’d had too much champagne. "I guess I did a little collecting when you weren’t looking.”

    The baby boy could’ve been me. No wait. It was me. I’d seen enough baby pictures to know.

    "I hope you don’t mind,” she said.

    Why would I mind having a clone of me walking around?


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