by Lillian Csernica on September 13, 2013
“The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country
How do we create the art we want to create despite all the strictures that surround us? I’m a writer, so I’m going to focus on writing. I believe a lot of the same considerations extend to painting, dance, music, sculpture, etc. With that in mind, let me recommend to you the wonderful little book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. As a writer, I need to know what kind of writing I want to do. Over the course of the twenty years I’ve been working as a professional writer, I’ve written novels, short stories, screenplays, magazine articles, magazine columns, newspaper articles, poetry, and a whole lot of personal journal entries. We find out what we want to do, what we most enjoy doing, by trying this, that, and the other. Effort is made, data is collected, conclusions are arrived at, and off we go.
STAGE ONE: Explore the possibilities! What do you really enjoy doing in terms of creating art? Poetry, short stories, literary work, hardboiled detective novels? Figure out what you want to do, then go find out how it’s done. Don’t worry about getting it right the very first time. T.S. Eliot said, “Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity.” For writers, anyway, it’s really quite simple. Read a lot. Write a lot. Study the masters of the writing forms that interest you.
STAGE TWO: Now that you know what you want to write and how to do a good job writing it, go to it! Every day. Process goal or productivity goal. Whatever suits your life. The question you have to keep asking yourself: Is this me? Is this my work? Is this want I want to do, what my soul cries out for, what speaks to me at night when I’m only half-awake? Or is it what somebody else wants me to write, what somebody else is telling me I should write, what somebody else wishes he or she had the guts to write? Be on the alert for these differences. People will try to hijack you the minute you prove you have the courage to break away from the churning mass of wannabes.
STAGE THREE: So you’re writing. Good for you! What do you want to do with it? Personal self-expression? Family legacy? Professional sales? That’s all fine. Not everybody has to get out there and endure the daily mud wrestling that means you’re a professional writer. Given that the majority of the writing blogs I read are about making sales in today’s marketplace, I’m going to speak to that. Dean Wesley Smith once made a bet with Nina Kiriki Hoffman. They each had to write one short story a week for one year (and send them out to publishers). They continued the bet for three years, and by the end of those three years, they were selling to the top professional markets. The moral of the story? They worked hard, they kept improving, and they set their sights high right from the start.
STAGE FOUR: Go do something different. But wait, you say. I just learned how to do what I want to do, and now I’m making progress! Why should I switch horses in mid-race? The human mind needs and craves a variety of input. You like to write about cars? Go write an essay about geraniums. You like to write short stories? Write a dozen haiku, or sonnets, or your very own nursery rhymes. People demand a lot of their “Muse.” What nobody thinks about is what the Muse needs! Feed that Muse, people! Take her on a vacation and let her inspire you to do something fresh and new. Who knows what adventures you’ll have? Who knows what strengths you’ll discover?
Stay tuned! Next, we talk about Money!
- New Lecture Now Available: Practice (deanwesleysmith.com)
- Feed the Muse – Get in the Game (melissajanda.wordpress.com)
- Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking (wordwabbit.wordpress.com)