“Nothing in your education has taught you that what you notice is important,” writes Verlyn Klinkenborg in Several Short Sentences About Writing.
But everything you notice is important.
Let me say that a different way:
If you notice something, it’s because it’s important.
But what you notice depends on what you allow yourself to notice,
And that depends on what you feel authorized, permitted to notice
In a world where we’re trained to disregard our perceptions.
Who’s going to give you the authority to feel that what you notice is important?
It will have to be you.
The authority you feel has a great deal to do with how you write, and what you write,
With your ability to pay attention to the shape and meaning of your own thoughts
And the value of your own perceptions.
Being a writer is an act of perpetual self-authorization.
No matter who you are.
Only you can authorize yourself….
No one else can authorize you.
“This doesn’t happen overnight,” he writes. So how does one begin?
Start by learning to recognize what interests you.
Most people have been taught that what they notice doesn’t matter,
So they never learn how to notice,
Not even what interests them.
Or they assume that the world has been completely pre-noticed,
Already sifted and sorted and categorized
By everyone else, by people with real authority.
And so they write about pre-authorized subjects in pre-authorized language.
I have copied this passage out several times now, because it’s one of the best things I’ve ever read about giving yourself permission to write, to draw, to do anything creative.
Here is a nice, long interview with Klinkenborg in which he discusses the book’s origin and his teaching.
“What I do now is essentially help students escape from their education,” he says.
They’re taught that what they notice is not important. That the things they pay attention to really don’t matter, because they’re going to be taught how to handle what other people notice, what other people have written, what other people would have said. Well, what if you say to a student, “No actually, what you notice is important and it’s important because you noticed it.” What if you pay attention to the pattern of the way you notice the world around you? What if you pay attention to the perceptions that you have and the character of them, and trust their validity?
I cannot recommend the book enough. One of my favorite reads of the year.