Archive for May, 2011

What? Me worry?

I am one easily given to great bursts of emotion—weeping, raucous laughter in large crowds, even rage, (at inanimate objects in particular.) In writing, strong feelings can set your pen in motion but unless attention is paid they are nothing more than a pastiche of momentarily satisfying and often embarrassing noise.

Feelings are what get you on the page, but they seldom keep you there.  In fact, feelings may end up blackmailing your work. You are not your work and your work is not who you are.  Not separating the two will guarantee you a permanent seat next to the complaining cousin at family events.

You might be doing it and be unaware.  Here are some of the symptoms:

“Who do I think I am? Who would want to read anything I write?  Nothing interesting ever happens to my characters, to me, to the people I know.”  Ya da, ya da, ya da.  You might  as well be saying “I’m nobody. Nobody likes me. I’ve led a dull life. Why bother?” There is still a smidge of dignity operating because at the very least you realize that those things said out loud, would clear rooms. But you’re fooling no one.  It’s still whining. And why do we whine?  Because we don’t want to look like fools. And why don’t we want to look like fools? Because we are fearful.  And why are we fearful?  Because we don’t want to feel uncomfortable. And why don’t we want to feel uncomfortable? Because we want to be in control. Aha! Control:  the everlasting curse of creativity. Creativity is chaotic. Art is a disturbance of spirit. Give over to it.

Here is a variety of reactions that occur in the critiquing part of my workshop: stony silence, tears, one-liners, apologies, excuses. None of us are strangers to this. We do it everywhere—with our spouses, our children, lovers, bosses.  Not for a moment would I disavow anyone of strong feelings, but good teaching is what can help to separate “self” from work and like anything, it takes practice.  The payback is worth it.

What thrills me about teaching is when I unexpectedly land on something that rings so true I wonder where it came from. “Your work is more important than how you feel about it.” As it was coming out of my mouth I understood in a flash if I was to truly be of service in teaching I had to rely on translating the principles of craft as I understood them; anything less would serve only to make it all about me. The creative convergence between teacher and student is a two-way street, its intersection, the words on the page.

Don’t despair. This confusion happens at every level; novices and pros. No one is exempt.  The only difference is that some push through and others enjoy the noise.  Doubts are just the mosquitoes in the jungle of art.