Wednesday, September 22, 2021

It's okay to make something terrible ...

 Auckland has made its way from level 4 lockdown to level 3. This still represents a lot of time at home and while this sounds like the perfect opportunity for writing creatively, I have to say I'm very stuck on that front. Instead I have been ruminating and contemplating about a bunch of stuff and it seemed like it might be a good plan to assemble all the musings here. 

1) So much of a writer's life is outside of their control. If you decide to seek traditional publication, will the story be accepted or rejected? It's not up to us. If accepted, will the book sell well, get appreciative reviews, make its way to other countries, other languages? Will it bestsell, win an award, receive harsh criticism, languish at the bottom of the bargain bin, get pulped? All of these things can send an author into raptures of delight and depths of despair. And we wait constantly for any and all of these things to happen. Our happiness or otherwise is in the hands of others who answer to needs and expectations unrelated to what drove us to write the thing we wrote. 

I can see you frowning (and not just over that last sentence).  

It is not healthy to put all your happiness in the hands of others I hear you say. And you are right. But the nature of this calling means that some of the things we covet most - our words in print, the success of our book - requires the participation of others and in a manner of their choosing. At least some of our happiness will be at the mercy of others. But it shouldn't all be.

Obviously there will be other aspects in your life that bring you happiness and over which you have control. But you should also have some things like this within your creative existence. What makes you happy in this realm? 

For me?

I love the feeling when a story comes together and works like it should. When you write The End and you think, 'Yes, that's it! How handsome are you!'

I love the feeling of having a fragment of an idea and you sit down to write and it all (and more) pours out unexpectedly but satisfyingly.

I love the feeling of a hot new idea. No matter where it goes and if it turns into a full story, the frisson of excitement when you first grasp that dazzling spark is so delicious.

I love the feeling of sending a story out on submission. When I hit send and I think 'good luck little buddy, fare you well'. All the potential possibilities as it makes its way out in the world.  

I love talking with other writers, sharing our hopes, dreams, disappointments and dreads. I love not having to explain how things work in the writing world because we all speak the same language. I love the shared understanding and the camaraderie. I love the trust I feel that my fellow scribes will cheer me on when the news is good, and support me when I'm down.

I love making a conscious effort to fill my mind with fun and interesting experiences, especially when something catches alight in my mind and I am inspired.   

I love writing anything, once I get going and the words are coming together, and I feel that hum ... which kind of brings me to my second contemplation. It's okay to be dissatisfied by what you've written ...  

2) Being stuck is not a good time. I feel ill-at-ease when I am not writing. It's like having a broken leg when you're an athlete and all you can do is lie around when you are itching to be active. Wanting all that you write to be good can be a fly in the ointment - a part of what keeps you stalled. I came across the most wonderful tweet the other day which managed to give me permission to unstick myself a little. It's okay to make something terrible. It's a step on the pathway to making good things.

Bianca Stone
One big stupid (understandable) human problem is looking for shortcuts, when literally the end results are only truly achievable by the relentless, *almost* unbearable work. Terrible poems, humiliating conversations, reckoning,'s brutal, but glorious to live.

So perhaps wrestling with some written things which are refusing to obey you is the step you need to be taking now. Not everything will work. Not every idea becomes the desired object. And sometimes the only way to find a solution, is to try, try and try again. Do the work. Muddle through. It's okay to make a crap thing. Sometimes seeing the crapness is a way to get past it. Sometimes you just need to get it out of your system. 

This tweet felt particularly pertinent because I have been sporadically writing some grown up poetry - not so much because I have big ambitions to be a writer of grown up poems, but more because the ideas that have turned up have had mature themes or demand a mature approach. It is a very different form and at times it feels like trying to speak a new language when I don't know all the words. But I feel like I have things to say and this is the way to say these things. A few of my efforts have worked (and made me happy - see 1) but I have had more misses than hits. Maybe being terrible at it isn't the worst thing. Maybe not doing it at all is the worst. 

 3) A local philistine has been on twitter the last few days moaning about the arts in New Zealand and the government's funding support for them. The arts (according to said philistine) are a luxury, a frivolous indulgence. Its not a real job. Its just lazy people not doing anything worthwhile or productive and just farting around with fringe ideas while avoiding getting a 'real' job. Critics forget how creative minds are responsible for their tv entertainment that preserved their sanity during lockdown, that Netflix movie, that amazing podcast, that comedy set that made them laugh so hard they cried, the songs they listen to on the way to work or while they're exercising, the books that grow their children's minds and teach them the fundamental skills of reading and writing and being human. And the artwork that is a part of it all. All the creative minds involved in product design, fashion, hairdressing, jewellery, watch making, mobile phones and so on ... All the every day things we take for granted that look and work best because a creative mind got involved. And the ideas we debate and discuss in fiction that illuminate our lives and contribute to the way we shape society. Just imagine your life without all that and then get back to me about the necessity of the arts. Sheesh. 

4) There is also a persisting line of thinking that children's books are an inferior art form. I think about this a lot, and feel immensely frustrated that people are so wrong about children's literature. I have discussed it before on this blog here, and here, and former UK Children's Laureate Lauren Child touches on it here. I'll be very interested to see her manifesto and will post it here when/if I can.  

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