Rewriting [is] very painful. You know it’s finished when you can’t do anything more to it, though it’s never exactly the way you want it… The hardest thing in the world is simplicity. And the most fearful thing, too. You have to strip yourself of all your disguises, some of which you didn’t know you had. You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. That is the goal.

~ James Baldwin


The effort is real

If you are going to be a writer there is nothing I can say to stop you; If you’re not going to be a writer nothing I can say will help you. What you really need at the beginning is somebody to let you know that the effort is real.

~ James Baldwin



Something that irritates you. That’s the anguish of it. Do this book, or die. You have to go through that. Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: Discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.

~ James Baldwin


Quotations are difficult

Most of my blog posts are either a quotation which I leave to stand on its own, or a usually-longer-length pull-quote with a citation and my commentary. Things around here are very intentional. The freestanding quotations are meant to leave all the context and analysis to you, Dear Reader, without any of my thoughts coloring your thoughts. You may very well try to learn more about me based on my selections, but I’m trying to recreate—for your enjoyment—the experience of discovering the quotation. The pull-quotes both expose the seed of my reflections and try to lure you to something in the world I’d like to highlight.

Fires can’t be made with dead embers, nor can enthusiasm be stirred by spiritless men.

~ Baldwin

But there are the vanishing rare two-fer posts like today. There. Have a quote. And…

I discovered this quote in a book, (p17 of Get Together, 2019 Richardson et al if you must know.) I know this will surprise you, but I have a well-practiced process for “capturing” quotes. In this case, the vague attribution tickled a memory; “I’m pretty sure I have a quote from James Baldwin…” I checked, and I do. “I wonder if this quote is that Baldwin…”

What’s the simplest thing that could possibly work? Just type the quote, in quotes, into a search engine… and Quote Investigator has a page for it. (Going directly to Quote Investigator is step two, by the way, if the search fails. I search generally, first, because it often finds the phrase in the original source material right out of the gate.) It turns out that this quote has a second sentence!

Fires can’t be made with dead embers, nor can enthusiasm be stirred by spiritless men. Enthusiasm in our daily work lightens effort and turns even labor into pleasant tasks.

~ Baldwin


Oh, nice! I like that even more than the one I stumbled on. But who is this “Baldwin”… and then I read the Quote Investigator page. Their conclusion is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ . It’s been attributed four different ways for nearly 90 years. And now I’m wondering if my James Baldwin quote— which is #380 in my collection of 700+ so it’s pretty old, although I think I recall where I got it, from Gaping Void . . . but don’t go there! It’s a wonderland rabbit hole of decades of cartoons. I digress. And I’m having images of the book authors doing this same rabbit hole deep dive.

Fine, executive decision: I’ll stick with “Baldwin.” But that makes for this wonky entry in my slipbox index of people… Now I have “Baldwin, James” and “Baldwin.” But you know what? I’m never going to forget about this now, if I ever look at that index slip again.

So now you know: When you see me casually drop a freestanding quote here, it’s not in truth casually.