The Power of Admitting You Don’t Know

Great exploration by Tim Kreider of our media culture and the reluctance of many of its participants to shut up and admit they don’t know what they’re talking about.

I think about this a lot, how most of us don’t acknowledge the limits of our knowledge when we write and talk. Tim’s article begins with possible origins of the impulse (think grade school thesis statements) and concludes with current examples and the implications of not letting on when we don’t know.

An excerpt:

This is another reason so many writers feel the need to impersonate someone wise or in possession of some marketable truth: it’s a function of insecurity, of fear. If we don’t assume some sort of expertise, why, exactly, should anyone bother reading us, let alone buy our books or invite us to appear on “Fresh Air”? The one thing no editorialist or commentator in any media is ever supposed to say is I don’t know: that they’re too ignorant about the science of climate change to have an informed opinion; that they frankly have no idea what to do about gun violence in this country; or that they’ve just never quite understood the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in all honesty they’re sick of hearing about it. To admit to ignorance, uncertainty or ambivalence is to cede your place on the masthead, your slot on the program, and allow all the coveted eyeballs to turn instead to the next hack who’s more than happy to sell them all the answers.

From “The Power of ‘I Don’t Know'” {new york times}.

That Panicky Feeling in Your Stomach

Fascinating interview between writer George Saunders and his editor, Andy Ward {slate}. This part has stuck with me throughout the day today:

WARD: Do you still get that panicky feeling in your stomach when you send a story to an editor?

SAUNDERS: Yes, and I hope I always do. I think that’s a respectful way to feel. A realized piece of writing had better be taking some chances, and since the end goal is communication, there’s always the possibility that the chance you are taking won’t pay off, i.e., the little leaps of faith that you’ve programmed in might be wrong, due to some tin-ear syndrome on your part.

“That’s the respectful way to feel”—both to editor, reader and writer himself. Such an elegant way of putting it. The whole thing is definitely worth a read. Great perspective on the relationship of a brilliant team.

More on the writing process here {this blog}.

Writing in Self-Imposed Confinement

This part of an article about singing naked and other rituals of creativity {guardian} caught my eye:

Writing rituals, like all fetishes associated with creativity, are intrinsically interesting. Jonathan Franzen attracted a lot of attention when he described writing The Corrections in a state of primitive solitude. According to Time magazine, “Franzen works in a rented office that he has stripped of all distractions. He uses a heavy, obsolete Dell laptop … Because Franzen believes you can’t write serious fiction on a computer that’s connected to the internet, he not only removed the Dell’s wireless card but also permanently blocked its Ethernet port.”

I don’t think there would be another way to be a full-time, self-employed writer—and physically blocking your computer’s internet port is brilliant. I’d imagine he’d also have to leave his phone at home, too…

Why Writers Should “Sell Out”

Why writers should “sell out” and get a professional writing job: it forces you to write, every day. No matter what you’re writing, having to start and write every day will make you a better writer, no matter what your eventual goal is.

Oh, and you get paid for it, too.

So suck it up and get a job.