Advice from the Masters: Oliver Sacks

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Most of Oliver Sacks‘ writing is about neurological patients in the manner of 19th Century clinical anecdotes. He’s known for books like The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings, which was made into a film starring Robin Williams. For my money, as good as those books are, his best piece of writing is the NY Times Op-Ed piece, “My Own Life.” He wrote it after finding out that he had terminal cancer.

This next bit of advice is longer than most of the ones I share. It’s about how Sacks uses a personal journal.

“I started keeping journals when I was fourteen and at last count had nearly a thousand. They come in all shapes and sizes, from little pocket ones which I carry around with me to enormous tomes. I always keep a notebook by my bedside, for dreams as well as nighttime thoughts, and I try to have one by the swimming pool or the lakeside or the seashore; swimming too is very productive of thoughts which I must write, especially if they present themselves, as they sometimes do, in the form of whole sentences or paragraphs…

But for the most part, I rarely look at the journals I have kept for the greater part of a lifetime. The act of writing is itself enough; it serves to clarify my thoughts and feelings. The act of writing is an integral part of my mental life; ideas emerge, are shaped, in the act of writing.

My journals are not written for others, nor do I usually look at them myself, but they are a special, indispensable form of talking to myself.”

Hat tip to Maria Popova and her marvelous blog Brain Pickings, which is where I found this quote and lots more.

Want more? Check out the complete list of Advice from the Masters posts

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