Sunday, February 5, 2012

Advice for Aspiring Writers: Neil Gaiman Quoting Alan Watts

Neil Gaiman recently posted on his Tumblr account a wonderful quote from Alan Watts concerning advice for aspiring writers. I thought, since Watts (as well as Gaiman) is a long time favorite in these parts that it was well worth passing along:

Advice? I don’t have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don’t. Who knows, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to.

— Alan Watts


the baby swallow's
flying lesson...
off the horse's rump
translated by David G. Lanoue


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Ed Baker said...

may I add

to this ad:vice

something Henry Miller said
((abt painting but ALL-so app
lies to writing
(as Rita Goldberg
has it as Writing Down the Bones)):

"paint how you like and die happy."

2wo must read & inhale Watts' books:

-The Way of Zen
-The Book

re:freshing quote / advice

damn few damn few take this way or
understand what the hell that he is saying
and go
(willy-nilly) off on their own

aditya said...

Very helpful. Reminds me of Charles Bukowski, who said-

Don't Try

Bukowski explained the phrase in a 1963 letter to John William Corrington: "Somebody at one of these places [...] asked me: 'What do you do? How do you write, create?' You don't, I told them. You don't try. That's very important: 'not' to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It's like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it."

And his gravestone reads-

Don't Try

Anonymous said...

Terrific post! Writing and flying lessons both!!! Just imagine. Watts pretty much is the clincher for me on many ideas, without even trying! His late book-essay, "Cloudhidden: Whereabouts Unknown" will probably always be my favorite book. Partial to his haiku rules also: .

This Issa really takes off. Thanks.

Nathan said...

Just what I needed to hear, man. Thanks!

pat n said...

Thanks for this post, Don.

"If you’re writing, you’re a writer."

Geezzzz, might have to give up my lapsed-painter identity :-)))

Gary Snyder on writing . . . .

How Poetry Comes to Me

It comes blundering over the
Boulders at night, it stays
Frightened outside the
Range of my campfire
I go to meet it at the
Edge of the light

Lyle Daggett said...

One of my favorite Alan Watts quotes, a very brief one, is a quick moment from an interview with Robert Wilson, given at the front of an edition of Zen and the Beat Way. The snippet of dialogue goes as follows:

Robert Wilson: What is Zen?

Alan Watts: [Soft chuckling.]

Robert Wilson: Would you care to enlarge on that?

Alan Watts: [Loud laughing.]

The same book includes, in the Introduction (written by someone other than Alan Watts -- possibly Mark Watts, though the author of the Introduction isn't named), a short excerpt from a 1960 interview of Alan Watts by Robert Anton Wilson, originally published by Paul Krassner's magazine The Realist. The excerpt reads:

Now I remember the real, original Dharma Bums of the 1945-56 era--young veterans hitchhiking across the country and stopping every place there was a "sage" who knew something about Eastern philosophy. Some even went to Switzerland to speak to Jung, and many came to see me at Northwestern University.

They weren't interested in jazz or drugs or hot rods, I assure you. Many of them are still around, but very few of them in the Village or North Beach. They're on farms or in little communities they created themselves. They are out of the rat races of keeping up with the Joneses.

They are the substance of which the Beat generation is the shadow.


The item in one of the other comments here about Charles Bukowski ("Don't try") brought to mind another Bukowski moment, of sorts -- in The Poet Exposed (a book of photographs of poets by Chris Felver, who has photographed quite a few), the page for Charles Bukowski has no photo of Bukowski, only a photo reproduction of a short handwritten note that reads "No visitors," with Bukowski's signature at the bottom.

snowbird said...

When I see that "bird flying over us" there are no words, there's only the trace of my hand capturing the curve of its wing...that's all I need to know.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Two, indeed, great books by Watts - The Book I used to buy copies of in 2nd hand stores just to give to people - ah, people, we remember those.

Is that Natalie Goldberg?


Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Wonderful CB quote, great follow on the Watts.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Flying, indeed - thanks for the link, may have to repost the Watts lecture (with tip o' hat back your way). Great, great stuff.

And the Issa, too!

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


There it is ... beautiful Snyder ... these comments are a post in and of themselves! Thanks.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Wonderful Watts and Buk ... the idea of the shadow is something that keeps coming up in just the last few days, so thanks for continuing the thread I need to weave into something larger.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


The shadow of the curved, passing wing ...


bandit said...

I've been wondering how to gird my loins for just such an endeavor.

It's just . . . it's just the people I know don't want me to. I suppose i could write about my summer vacation . . .

Terri L. French said...

Loved the Watts quote and all of the commentary that followed. The tough part for me in identifying myself as "a Writer," is that I seldom get paid for it. What does money have to do with it!? Neither our identity nor our self-worth should come from whether or not we get paid for doing something we love and essentially have to do in order to survive as a whole, happy and fulfilled human being.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

bandito ... time to get new people.


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Terri ...

So true ... it is the nature of our culture to devalue that which is not a blockbuster, trendy, on a new wave cusp.

It's most important that we value our work ourselves ... all else follows, but the road is long, rough and, yes, windy.