“Writing With, From, and For Others” by Maggie Nelson

As writers, we rely on others for material, filling our pages with what others have said, done, believed. In an essay, “Writing With, From, and For Others,” author Maggie Nelson thinks about self-reliance, interdependence, and how writers lean against others. Here’s how the essay begins:

For a long time, I worried there was something wrong with me as a writer, because I leaned so heavily on the thinking and writing of others. And further, that instead of wanting to hide that leaning, my impulse has often been to showcase it, to make this thinking-with-others, this weaving of mine and others’ words, part of the texture of my writing.

The flip side of this “leaning against” has been well put by Emerson, that sage of self-reliance, who famously said: “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.” This is also good advice. “Leaning against” can’t be an excuse that saves one from doing the real thinking and writing. I still struggle with this balance. I’m not saying I always get it right. What I’m saying is that it can be a worthwhile and generative place in which to experiment, stumble around, live, and create.

Read more of Nelson’s essay here.

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