Friday, June 22, 2012

Naked and unphotoshopped

There are two things that I feel evangelical about when it comes to discussions of or meditations on the artistic life. One is Patti Smith's numinous book, Just Kids. The other is Terri Windling's blog. Both manage to balance reality and struggle with inspiration and joy, and they do so in ways that embody the art they are addressing. These are things you should be reading.

The entry on Terri's blog today talks about "the courage to be bad." This is one of the things that I have wrestled with a lot. 

For a very long time, I didn't have the courage to be bad. I had this idea that if I couldn't get it right the first time, I wasn't good enough, and so I didn't deserve to make art. I have a lot of beginnings of things that are unfinished not because the work got hard, or because I got blocked, or because the work suddenly felt like work, but because I knew they weren't good, not as good as I wanted them to be. So I stopped writing, set them aside, and accepted the fact that I wasn't any good.

Which is completely the wrong way to think of things.

I don't mean that it's bad to be able to look at your own work critically, and to push yourself to make it better. Revision is good, and there are very few perfect first drafts in the history of the world. There are no awards given for "person who rewrote the fewest scenes before publication." But you have to let go enough to make the art in the first place.

Beyond that, what Terri's post is speaking to is the idea that when you dream big, when you come up with the idea for a project that pushes you out of your comfort zone, and out of what you think is your competence zone, you risk failure. You risk aiming beyond your talent, and beyond your audience, and when you know you're doing that, it can be terrifying. Often the risks you are taking don't just have artistic consequences - this book won't sell - but practical ones as well - this book won't sell, and then I can't pay the rent.

There is this strange thing that has happened as I have become a better writer. I am simultaneously more aware of the flaws in my drafts, and more willing to leave them there, knowing that I can come back and fix them later. That doesn't mean that things aren't hard. There are still scenes that frustrate me, huge swathes of text that get chopped out on revision, moments where turning off the invisible judging nuns that live just behind my eyes and have Thoughts on That Sort of Thing is almost impossible. But I've learned that even when I can't be brave for myself, I can be brave for my story. And so I write.


  1. It's that thing of climbing a mountain ... you struggle to get to the top and find that there's a whole mountain range beyond ... but you had to get to the top of that first one to find the others.

  2. I struggle so much with this and I don't really know how to beat it. I've read things like this endlessly but I think until you reach the intuitive understanding for yourself, none of what anyone else says matters.

    But it's important to keep trying, no? So I will. Only hours ago I was watching a video of Ray Bradbury giving a keynote address and 5 minutes in to the video, I stopped and created the blog based on what he was saying.

    Don't worry about quality, you just have to keep writing. So I aim to try and do exactly what the late great man said and tell 52 stories in a year. I hope I can come to the same understanding you've achieved, not just at an intellectual level, but on every level.