January 20, 2012
I recently read a list on Facebook – “How to be Miserable as an Artist”. I don’t know the original author of the post, and I can’t give credit where it’s due. But I do appreciate that so many people have shared it, because it really hit home. And at the risk of infringing on someone else’s copyright (take THAT, SOPA!), I thought I’d publish it here, as well.
- Constantly compare yourself to other artists.
- Talk to your family about what you do and expect them to cheer you on.
- Base the success of your entire career on one project.
- Stick with what you know.
- Undervalue your expertise.
- Let money dictate what you do.
- Bow to societal pressures.
- Only do work that your family would love.
- Do whatever the client/customers/gallery owner/patron/investor/*fan* asks. (I added that last one)
- Set unachievable/overwhelming goals, to be accomplished tomorrow.
The two most important lessons in this list – for me – are #1 and #10. I find that when I’m feeling the pressure … when the muse refuses to cooperate and all I produce is absolutely craptastic, I start comparing my work to other writers and identifying all the places where I’ve gone wrong. Why didn’t I come up with that turn of phrase? Why don’t I see the world that way? How did I miss this, that, or the other? There is nothing worse for your self esteem than to compare your work with others’ and berate yourself for being somehow … less … than they are.
I’m pretty lucky. I’m part of a group of fantastic writers who create within the same genre. I’m always learning from them. I’m always inspired by them. I get fantastic support, incredibly helpful editorial advice, and the belief that no matter how long it takes, I will get it done. But there are times when I have to remind myself that these amazing writers go through the same struggles as I: sometimes, inspiration just hits … and sometimes – often – they have to work for it. Instead of comparing myself to them, instead of identifying all the places where I fall short, I can look at the work of these artists and think, “Wow. I want to work harder. I want to do better. I want to feel about my work the way I feel about theirs.” And you know what? Eventually, I do. When I produce something I’m genuinely proud of, I know what it’s like to not be miserable. So … lesson learned. Use other artists as inspiring examples … but never compare yourself to them. Never try to be like them. Your art is yours. You are unique and different, and your voice deserves to be heard.
And that brings me to #10, which I’m pretty sure has plagued me since the day I started this blog (possibly before). Avoid setting goals that are unrealistic, unachievable, overwhelming … and expecting them to be done tomorrow. Life gets in the way. Careers matter, and bills, and kids, and spouses, and pets. Your commitments are important, and if you allow yourself to be derailed every time something else needs your attention, you’ll only beat yourself up when you don’t accomplish what you set out to do.
I’ve been working on the same story for almost four years (egads! FOUR YEARS!) … and so many times, I’ve had to step back because what was going on in the rest of my life took up my time, my fuel, my creative energy. I’m still working on this lesson, and many days it’s a major struggle. But it’s necessary to remember that, ultimately, we’re not creating for other people. When we start to do what others want or expect, when we produce for them instead of for ourselves … we lose sight of why we started in the first place. So what if it takes four months to write a craptastic chapter? And what if it takes another two or three months to turn into something wonderful? Well then, so be it! Don’t set unreasonable deadlines. Let the muse guide you. (I say this with a sheepish hint of irony, given that I set a New Year’s resolution to finish my story by year-end).
When all is said and done, the only pressure we artists really need to listen to is the one that comes from within … from the voice that says, “Make the time. Trudge ahead. Don’t give up. Keep practicing.”
So keep at it, friends. However long it takes. The work will always be there – it’s up to you to decide how you’ll approach it. Just remember to have fun with it! Laugh a little! Give the muse a good beating now and then! But never … NEVER … make yourself miserable doing it. If you’re miserable … then what’s the point?
Happy New Year!
April 16, 2009
“O! for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.”
– William Shakespeare, King Henry V
There was a time not that long ago when my only goal was to finish chapter 17. It was a chapter that plagued me for months, hounding me with the minute details of an investigation – the dry police work, the slow revelation of clues …
In that moment when the last word was written, when I’d finally placed the last period and written the fateful “Chapter 18” at the top of the next page … all I could think about was my desire to move on, to immerse myself in the next scene, to explore the emotional angst that was sure to present.
I’ve been working on 18 for a few weeks, and with each writing session, the chapter gets longer (3,627 words and counting), the writing stronger. Words leap from my fingers to the keyboard, give me no time to think them through. They simply … appear. I can’t imagine what’s happened, though I suspect it has something to do with the glorious freedom I feel having rid myself – if only temporarily – of the hell I experienced with the last chapter. Whatever the reason, I’m not going to worry over it. A writer must never question her muse. She must accept what comes with her whole heart, ride the wave of inspiration, allow it to carry her where it may.
And believe me; it’s carrying me to places I never expected. New storylines are forming in my mind – new emotions and symbols that add additional levels of complexity to the ongoing saga. I’m experiencing “the bug” for the first time in ages …
And I can’t get enough!
Descriptions come pouring forth. Images manifest on the page before they’ve formulated in my mind. One minute I’m directing myself down one road, and then a fork pops up and I realize I’ve changed direction. It’s amazing. With all this inspiration, a girl could get lost in the process and forget the point.
And so, I face a dilemma: how to keep up momentum, but still allow the chapter its natural conclusion. I don’t want it to end! I don’t want to let go!
What’s a writer to do?
I don’t know what other writers would do in this situation, but I’m going to take a chance and share some of that inspiration in the hope that by putting it out there, I’ll be more inclined to reign myself in and finish what I’ve started. It’s a long shot, but it’s worth a try!
* * *
The tunnels were quiet at this late hour, though she heard the occasional message over the pipes … a gentle tap-tapping like the forbidden whispers of siblings – secret exchanges that occurred only during those long nights when childish excitement precluded the need for sleep.
She’d never shared in such fellowship, never felt the twinning of souls, the blood bond of a brother or sister. And yet … she’d practiced for the occasion, prepared herself for it, indulged in the possibility. She smiled now, remembering those nights … remembering her – the imaginary friend she’d conjured as her sole consolation after her mother’s death. Sara. She was the one person who accepted every revelation sung quietly beneath a heavy patchwork quilt, every giggle released within that tent of warmth and light where a single flashlight cast glowing ripples across her skin.
In those hours when the house was eerily silent, when her mother’s absence seemed somehow more present … when her father’s solemn face haunted Catherine’s thoughts, she’d cover herself with her favourite pink pony quilt and whisper to Sara her most desperate wish – a prayer which, even now, she daren’t speak to another soul, caught as she was in the juvenile belief … the hope … that one day, someday … it might come true.
April 3, 2009
A few weeks ago, while visiting my sister and her family in Halifax, I sat down with my sister’s children and wrote a fairytale. It was a special story – formulated just for them, with the skunk, the prince, and the knight … as requested.
After reciting the story aloud, I sat down with my laptop and painstakingly typed it out – filled in the blanks, improved the structure, embellished the imagery and made it, overall, more “fairytale-ish”. It took hours … many more than I’d anticipated.
In the end, I had a passable story printed and ready for illustration (the kids immediately set to work on that project). It wasn’t my best work, I admit, but it had the best result: it inspired me to finally get cracking on the two picture book series I’ve been holding in the back of my mind for the past few years.
Of course, I still need to finish my novel-length fan fiction. I know I’ll never hear the end of it if I don’t. But now, those children’s books … and my ability to write them … don’t seem such an impossible endeavour. I want to write them. I want to publish them (or at least try).
So I’m setting a new goal for myself, one which has been, up until now, a pact between me, myself, and I … and my friend, Carole – who holds me accountable as no one else can. That is, to write the first book and submit it for publication before the end of the year. It may not seem like much to you, but it’s a huge deal to me. To actually care enough to submit for publication. To actually want it badly enough to welcome the rejection letters that are sure to come. Oh yes, they’ll come. I expect them. I look forward to them. I’ll frame the first one after posting its rather mundane message here for the world to see.
Everyone has to start somewhere, right?
So, I’m starting.
And just for luck, I’m penning the happily ever after, too.
January 15, 2009
I found one! I found one!
What a relief. I was beginning to think I was going to have to write “clip-clop, tip-tap” to describe a human’s footsteps. Thank goodness for creative friends who come up with new and unusual ways to search the internet (“onomatopoeia footsteps” … would you have thought of that?)
Here’s the final sentence. What a relief!
She heard the creak of the door opening, his steps on the hard tile, the click-clack, tip-tap disappearing into silence.
Now if I can just find a new word to describe the sound of a door closing (the door clicked shut) …