patience for the creative spirit
>Yesterday I passed the very arbitrary 1/4-done mark for G.O.T.S. (wrote a whopping 262 words, which, considering the kids are playing loud music and just generally full of spring-break rambunctious/fractiousness, is an amount I have to just accept as being adequate). I say arbitrary because I actually don’t know how long the whole thing is going to end up being. The progress meter and its accompanying word count goal are just tools by which I can give myself a visual conception of my “progress.” It’s nice to see the bar moving along.
I (metaphorically) sit with the sense every day that this is a story that I want to write, that it’s one I need to write and I simultaneously, constantly, wonder if I’m doing it justice. It’s hard to differentiate between critics: there’s the one who’s been with me since the beginning of things, just a general sourpuss who sneers at everything, regardless of the quality and then there’s… maybe there’s another one who knows there’s something much more integral to the story than what I’ve given it so far, who wants it to shine, who wants the story to be carried – on something powerful and simultaneously ego-less, like the sea carries boats. So far it’s just me, writing a story in which I can’t even figure out how old the main character is (and that’s important as a seven year old is not a ten year old).
If you’re interested in another writer’s analysis of the pressures of publishing and the havoc wreaked on creativity by the market (if you don’t get enough of it here), I recommend Catherynne M. Valente’s essay, Voodoo Economics: How to Find Serenity in an Industry that Does Not Want You.
In the antiseptic, sour-smelling halls of psychology, there is an entire wing devoted to Anxiety. Within that wing is a dingy corner containing a dry mop and a broken drinking fountain bearing a sign that reads “Please Love Me.” This section is wholly devoted to Writer’s Anxiety…
and she considers why it is most writers are anxious. I can’t say that I have the experience she’s talking about, as I’m not actively seeking publication… but maybe the reason I’m not seeking publication is because I know what it entails. ? Maybe? And it’s not that I’m adverse to sharing my writing, it’s just that I know that it might be a very serious challenge to my creative (Muse) mind to have to put up with that kind of pressure. I seem to have taken out part of the equation completely, by starting with the assumption that I’m not writing anything anyone would want anyway. It’s pressure enough to write something that I love… to heck with everyone else! So in that regard, I would suggest that there’s a “tier” before Valente’s first among those encompassing Writers’ Anxiety, and that’s the tier in which the writer is aware that she is dealing with something bigger than herself and that it’s the bigger thing that is given primacy.
Matt Cardin, whose site Demon Muse has been helpfully thought provoking and educational for me, quotes Jung in his recent post, and I have to say that though there’s the possibility of getting lost in the label without being involved in the work of being an artist (oh, poor suffering me!), when one is really doing the work (or at least attempting), this holds true:
The artist is not a person endowed with a free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through him.
This past year, since I returned from China, I’ve been exploring how creativity works for me. These explorations have led me to find inspiring resources and a number of functional tools that I’m learning to utilize. One of the hardest things to come to terms with is finding a balance between what I’m being asked to do through writing (and having written that, I finally just admitted that I’m being asked to do something, which is kind of a Big Idea) and the fact that I have a lot of other demands to fulfill (most notably single-parenting while Dantseng works overseas).
The irony, that I can easily write blog posts about this when the fictional story doesn’t arrive nearly so easily, is not lost on me.
Valente’s point is absolutely spot-on:
There are more writers today, producing more text, than ever before in the history of the world. It can’t have escaped notice that this entire article is pregnant with the assumption that its audience is primarily other writers and aspiring writers. More books, more blogs, more everything. If everyone with literary aspirations were to, at this very instant, wake up, laugh, and get a banking job, the publishing industry could go for decades, even a century, on just those who are working now, reprints, and endless new editions of the ten most popular books of all time. No one would even notice.
We’re selling steel to the steel barons, kids.
So when I say it didn’t happen, what I mean is that the barons will never look down at me and say: yes, you are what we want. Let’s be honest, I don’t even sell machine-grade steel. I sell Damascus steel, folded and intricate, dug up from the earth, practically useless, desirable only to lovers of the arcane, the beautiful, the old. No one slammed a fist down onto their desk and shouted: what we need here is a woman writer with too much education to natter incomprehensibly about fairy tales! It doesn’t work like that. It’s a ghastly game, trying to predict how an author will perform, betting on her like a horse. And how she runs! As long as she can, she runs. But usually, it’s not that long.
I’ve been questioning myself a lot lately. Questioning my steel, if you will. I choose to write the aggressively strange, almost virulently outside the mainstream. Does this hurt me? Does it, slowly, kill me? I can’t tell. I just can’t. I try to recall Ted Chiang’s words as I was working on this article: “I once heard that, on average, published novelists earn only slightly more than migrant laborers. With prospects like that, why not just write what you want?”
So, more to appease my internal critic than to offer anything of deep meaning to my few readers, I have to say that this is exactly what I’m working on – yes, there’s a manuscript being gradually drawn out, yes the story matters, but what matters too is that I write it in a way that both it and I are made more whole. This is something that’s required to make an environment where my creativity will even show up to play. It remains to be seen if I’m premature in asking it to play – many writers work under conditions much more adverse than mine, with demands far more pressing. So I’m working on making sure my inner artist doesn’t get too spoiled (Oh, I can’t work if I don’t have creamy cotton paper and an antique waterman pen with blue-black ink)… but that it gets what it needs (maybe it does need the blue-black ink… but more likely it just needs a little bit of solitude each day).
I don’t know if any of this will ever be completely intelligible to me – more likely it’s an ongoing investigation with lots of false leads and considerable change in the circumstances as I go along.
Apparently my blog has turned into the corkboard where I pin up all the various clues I come across and how the scene looks from whatever vantage point I have at the time.