Perseverance and Self-Doubt

One of the things this blog has made me do is consider whether or not I should join or start a writer’s group. The authors of Art and Fear make the observation that the attrition rate of artists after graduation is incredibly high; if it were that high for doctors after medical school there would be a Senate investigation. They recommend getting together a support system for when you are out of school, perhaps to take the place of the one you had while you were in there.

Myself, when I was taking my second writing class, I just found it intimidating. Oh, it had the result of making me write (I had to earn a grade, for one thing), but I was more discouraged than encouraged by my experience there. Part of that was my reaction to the other students. If I felt that anyone had written a better essay than I, I was demoralized completely. How is it communicated to a student/artist that their work is their own and stands on its own merits? Why can’t I accept that for myself?

I couldn’t write the essays the others wrote partly because I hadn’t had the experiences they had had. I don’t mean that in an existential way, either. I mean the actual experiences that they wrote about. Some events lend themselves to a more dramatic, or funnier, story than others. Some even dictate the style of writing. My topic was too big, too rambling, I bit off more than I could chew. I need to learn to deal with my life in my writing in more manageable pieces. (Or be prepared to write a much longer essay, which is what I eventually did).

But did that experience make me stop writing? Obviously not. So, although I think the writers of Art and Fear have a very good point about support systems, I still think that “real” writers won’t quit. Or, if we do quit, we will be miserable. There have been many periods in my life when I didn’t write a thing. Except for in my journal. And in there my most common criticism of myself was that I wasn’t writing. And yet I was, if “only” in my journal. Because I couldn’t stop writing no matter what was going on in my life or how I felt about myself. I just couldn’t.

Gifted

My husband gave me a book to read called Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils and Rewards of Artmaking. The introduction of the book states that “it is about committing your future to your own hands, placing Free Will above predestination, choice above chance. It is about finding your own work.”

That brings up an interesting and bothersome idea: that God works through us. Does that mean that what we do is really God’s doing, or our own? What does it mean exactly when we say that we have a gift from God? Is He the one who expresses the gift? Of course not: we’re not automatons who are set in motion and robotically churn out works of art (or good deeds). We do have Free Will. Which implies that we can shirk our duties and ignore our gifts. I guess the real point is: how do we get ourselves to 1) recognize our gift(s); 2) accept our gifts; and 3) use our gifts to the best of our abilities? (A synonym for “gift” is “talent.”) Maybe #4 would be to dedicate the expression of our gifts to God. It might be that on our side all we need to do, to be in the will of God, is to work as hard as we can to bring our gifts to fruition. So, if I think that God has given me the talent of writing, a gift of communication, don’t I owe it to God as much as to myself to really work at it? What that means fills countless “how-to” books; it is up to us to adapt the advice to our own situations. While it is good advice to say that I should write every day, only I can decide when I write and for how long (or how much). If I had my way, I would write all day long, off and on. It never feels like work to me. It’s now 3 pm and I’ve been writing in here for at least three hours, maybe four. It doesn’t look like it, I know; I’ve been putzing around doing other things now and again, but the main reason I’ve not showered or dressed yet is because I keep turning back to the keyboard and trying to say all that I want to say today.

That’s probably what motivates me to write: I have things to say. And I want to write every day to find out what it is that I wanted or needed to say that day. Often I have no idea until I start writing. Oh, I’m thinking stuff all the time, but it doesn’t really coalesce until I try to put that “stuff” on paper/computer.

Who’s to say that my desire to write on any given day isn’t God pushing me to use my gift? All my life I wanted time to write and now that I have as much as I want, I find that it’s still not enough. I would spend every waking minute on the computer, writing, except when I’m reading.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) there are days that no matter how hard I try, I just can’t write. But when it’s going well, when the words are flowing and I can even type fairly quickly, I just want to go on forever. Maybe I ought to cut myself some slack and recognize that this is one of those days and that days like this make up for the days when I have zip to say.

The authors of Art and Fear write that “It’s easy to imagine that artists doubted their calling less when working in the service of God than when working in the service of self.”Yes, but how do we know the difference? Is it working in God’s service only when we paint religious paintings or write devotions? Or does any use of our gifts qualify as serving God? We would all draw the line somewhere I think, but where? Is it different for each person? Does it depend on our motivations?

Another point made in Art and Fear is that “the flawless creature wouldn’t need to make art.” Does that mean that the only way we can even hope to compete with God is through artistic expression? That making art makes us like Him? After all, when we make art we are participating in the job usually reserved for God: that of the Creator. Could it be said that it is exactly our imperfections that give each of us our distinctive voices? We are limited in what we create only by what we can imagine but we are limited in our imagination by what our life experiences have been and how we came into this world? We are not all created equally. That doesn’t mean that some people are better than others; rather, it means that we are all different.

A Writer’s Resolutions

Same old, same old. Get published. Make money.

What else is a writer going to say? After all, you’re not really a writer if you’re not published. And if you make money at your writing, well, then you’ve arrived!

If you’ve read my previous blogs you know that I don’t believe either of those “truths” about being a writer. But when I went to write my resolutions, these two items were right on the list. Why? Because it tells others that you’re a writer. They probably won’t believe you otherwise.

The first question I’m asked when I say that I’m a writer is “Where have you been published?” The unspoken question–or sometimes spoken one, if the asker is crass–is “Do you make any money at it?” Never mind that you write every day. Or that you made $700 in 1994 and only $600 since. You’re not a real writer unless you’ve passed these two tests, consistently.

You can’t change what other people think being a writer is. But you can change what you believe. Do you believe that you’re a writer? What do you believe qualifies you as one? Maybe you should stop following the crowd and emancipate yourself as a writer: Make the proclamation! I’m a writer. Do you even say that when people ask what you do? Or do you judge yourself by the standards of others?

Let me ask you this: do you write almost every day? Could you give up your writing? Are you passionate about writing? Does it make you feel good when you write? Do you learn anything from your writing? If you can say yes to every one of these questions, then you’re a writer, no question about it. If you can’t, you’d probably be better off developing another of your talents.

Maybe the only resolution that really makes sense for a writer is this: Believe in myself as a writer. You don’t have to resolve to write every day–you’d do that anyway. You don’t have to be published–you can’t control that. You don’t have to make money at it–that’s not really why you do it, is it?

Having said all this, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be published or to make money at your writing. If you must, put them down as resolutions. But if those are on the list, don’t forget to also include: Explore the markets. Develop writing ideas. Send out query letters. Join (or start) a writer’s group. Read a writing book. Take a writing course. But just remember, none of these activities qualify you to be a writer: writing does.