How to Write Something New

Dear Everybody,

Want to write something new?

Do the same thing creators have always done: take the counsel of other creators.

If you ain't doing something new, you ain't doing nothing at all.

-Sam Phillips, Sun Records Executive who developed Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis

Technology has changed but the system to take the counsel of other creators hasn’t:

  1. Play with ideas in a common place;

  2. Arrange them into something new.

What’s changed is how we discover the counsel of others.

In the past, writers had a special way of consuming the printed word. Books made it easy to play with ideas in a common place, and Erasmus popularized a way to arrange ideas into something new.

Today, writers have a special way of consuming the internet.

They break it into parts and put it back together in a new pattern. They don’t consume content, they consult content, and they don’t consume for discovery, they consume for action.

Actively consuming the internet has a magical effect on those who do it. It removes barriers to the act of creation…it makes reading and writing inseparable…and it makes people into writers.

…For the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality.

-Robert Darnton, “Extraordinary Commonplaces,” New York Review of Books, (December 21, 2000)

I close with words in observation of Earth Day and World Book Day earlier this week.

The naturalist John Muir, Father of our National Parks, philosopher and writer, took the counsel of another great creator, Mother Nature. He looked at the world the way writers and creators look at books and the internet:

One learns that the world, though made, is yet being made; that this is still the morning of creation.

This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere. The dew is never all dried at once. A shower is forever falling. Vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.

-John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir; edited by Linnie Marsh Wolfe (1938, reprinted by University of Wisconsin Press, 1979)

Creation comes from active consumption. 

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