Marlon James on Writing and Emotion: You don’t have to be in your happy place

From the great Marlon James, author of Booker prize winning – A Brief History of Seven Killings (emphases added):

So I’m on a panel last night and somebody asks, how does one write when overcome with emotion, mostly grief I’m assuming. How does one get words to paper when going through such upheaval? I was so mystified by the question that I didn’t answer for fear that I would become the night’s asshole. But I’m still mystified by it, because I don’t bring my present emotional state into my writing. Had I done that I would never have made it through my first novel, which was written under near suicidal distress. If anything, writing was the one place I didn’t have to be myself.
The art couldn’t care less how I feel. Guernica couldnt give a shit if Picasso was in his happy place, because well Guernica doesn’t have thoughts, it’s a piece of art that needs to be created and that creation will not be denied, or even delayed by how Picasso feels. My novel couldn’t give a shit if I hate the world and want to die. Art doesn’t give a shit.

More here. And it’s true. Guernica doesn’t care. That horse has better things to do.


You don’t have to be in your happy place. You don’t have to be in a good mood. You don’t have to have your taxes done. You don’t have to have your love life all figured out. You don’t have to know what your lipstick shade is.

You don’t have to be a perfectly watertight, air tight, pasteurized, sanitized, irradiated emotional masterpiece.

You just have to sit and discover.

It felt right to pair it with Wild Geese by Mary Oliver.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


If you’re looking for a place that doesn’t need you to be in your happy place – but that does care!, we got two for you. Drop ins in Oakland, every first three Mondays, 3:30 – 5pm; Drop ins in San Francisco, 10-12 am, at Cafe La Boheme. We can’t wait to write with you!

And… we’re going to BAYCON!


Stop on by our booth and feed the monster.



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