A truly indissoluble bound: writers and coffee–and what it means for literature

The link between writers and coffee has a long standing tradition. As detailed in Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, many among the most famous and accomplished writers in the world drink coffee, or used to, to fuel their creativity. Søren Kierkegaard, Voltaire, L. Frank Baum, Margaret Atwood, Honoré de Balzac. This is just a handful of names. The list could go on practically forever. Legend has it that Honoré De Balzac drank as much as 50 cups of coffee a day. Instead, Søren Kierkegaard used to pour into his coffee a staggering amount of sugar. This wasn’t exactly the most healthy of the eating habits. But, apparently, that sugar rush sharpened the philosopher’s mind beyond belief. However, when we stop a second and consider how writers have always been particularly susceptible to addictions of one kind or another, this reliance of theirs on coffee looks far from unexpected. After all caffeine offers…

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Signs you are a writer – what is true and what is not

Surfing the web you can come across a zillion of posts listing the telltale signs you are a writer. These posts can be entertaining, no doubt about that. But they’re often based on myths, stereotypes, and little more. For example don’t worry if you didn’t start reading and writing before other children of your age. Or if your spelling abilities are still next to non existent. Many great writers have managed to succeed despite these problems, and some others way more difficult as well. Just think of W. B. Yeats and Jeanne Betancourt who had to work around their dyslexia. Think also of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor-in-chief of French Elle, who found himself paralyzed apart from one eye as a result of a catastrophic stroke. And yet managed to write a touching book — The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

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The creative writing process – why it matters more then any grammar or stylistic rule

Rules can be helpful. But there are really too many of them. So much indeed that, once we have mastered the basic ones, to improve our style we’re better off concentrating on a more concrete creative writing process. Phantom limbs can be extremely painful. Even if, given that they are not there, they shouldn’t pose any problem to their… owners. I know this sounds paradoxical. But bear with me, please. In the 90s the treatment of such type of pain was extremely difficult, and led to no or negligible improvements. But then V. S. Ramachandran came up with a brilliant solution. A solution only requiring a five dollar mirror. In fact, in his opinion the brain was sort of locked and unable to disengage the phantom limb from an uncomfortable and painful position because, after all, the limb was missing. But using a mirror, Ramachandran managed to give the brain the…

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The writing life – why I love writing

If you write because you think it’s the quickest way to becoming a millionaire, think better. In particular, you’re making two basic mistakes. The make-a-living myth The first is a simple matter of numbers. To pay the bills and send their kids to school, most writers, even the moderately successful ones, have to balance their precious time between their art and an often mundane day job. Of course, this doesn’t mean there are no authors able to accumulate a fortune with their books. We have all heard of people like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Nora Roberts, James Patterson, and all the others. However, considering the number of all the authors, those who sell enough to live from their craft really are a minority. This is so even if we don’t take into account the gazillion aspiring writers out there in the wild who write sporadically, read erratically, and rarely invest time…

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One of the most important rules for writers

With great power also comes great responsibility. This is quite a common saying–also thanks to its popularization by the creators of Spider-Man, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. In any case, this saying is so widespread also because it’s deeply true. Not just rules for writers… To realize this we don’t need to look for superheroes fighting against super villains always only one step away from destroying the world. We can just keep our eyes open during our everyday activities. Take traffic officers, for example. In the overwhelming majority of the cases, they behave in a professional way, irrespective of the fact they have stopped us for a routine control or to give us a ticket.

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The simplest solution in creative writing – understanding Occam’s razor

Keep it simple, this is a mantra so short and appealing that we end up thinking it must be always true. Unfortunately it is not. However, once we understand what the simplest solution means in creative writing, we can really step up our writing style. What is Occam’s razor, and why the simplest solution? In short, Occam’s razor is a principle stating that, among competing hypotheses, the simplest one should be preferred. However, this is just a tool, and like any tool it’s far from perfect. In fact, the preference it accords to the simplest solutions is such not because these have been proved to be always the correct ones—not at all. Rather, Occam’s razor gives preference to the simplest solutions because they are the more easily testable. The fact they often are also the correct ones is just a nice bonus. For example, just think of the stars we see in the…

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The role of art in society, the ultimate mind map?

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. As the quote from Hamlet makes it apparent, Shakespeare knew quite well that the world around us, just like the one residing in our head, is simply too vast and rich for an artist, any artist, to ever hope to describe it in its entirety. This might seem like a terrible limitation on our ability to create art. It also seems to undermine the role of art in society. Instead, I believe this apparent inability, this sort of limitation, is one of the strong points of art. Arts and maps In fact, just like Borges points out in his On Exactitude in Science, maps that are so rich and detailed as the territory they are meant to describe are quintessentially useless. The reason is simple. Maps are by definition representations of a limited number…

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