Another one from July 2008. Still importing the old posts into this newer bloggy blog.
This morning, I read this quote on writer friend Linda’s blog:
“You practice an art to make your soul grow, not to make money or to become famous. And this would include singing in the shower or dancing to the radio or also drawing a caricature of your best friend, or whatever—all this makes your soul grow. And you meet a person who’s done that, whether successfully or not, and you sense a larger soul.” —Vonnegut
Linda and I have been discussing the importance of artistic integrity in recent emails, as we both go through the process of pursuing publication for our book manuscripts. So this quote, about how the deeper purpose is to make your soul grow, just absolutely hit the spot.
I think that writers, possibly more than other types of artists, are confronted with a lot of other people’s opinions before, during and after working on any piece of writing. Critique groups, workshops, classes, readers (as in those who read first drafts and offer commentary), feedback from contests, agents and editors making editorial suggestions, and so on. It seems endless.
And a lot of the time, this is good. You get a different perspective, are shown things you might be blind to, gain insight and new, sometimes ingenious ideas.
But it also can be overwhelming. For one thing, I think it’s important to choose readers/critiquers/etc wisely when possible, people who will help you realize your vision of the piece, rather than those who want to impose their own. And it’s important to discern which suggestions feel right and which don’t.
And that can be a lot harder than it seems. Especially when there’s all this input coming from everywhere. And so many rules, whether in these groups and workshops, classes, or in writing books and magazines. You might read this or that is harder to sell (whether it’s which point of view the story’s in, a stylistic thing, word count, chapter length, subject matter that is or is not a hot topic). It can be daunting. It can be like trying to follow ever-changing fashion rules (which personally has always disgusted me to an extent). It can also steamroll right over that individual spark that fuels creativity in the first place. And when it comes from “authority figures” such as agents or editors, it can be even harder to sort out.
But I think ultimately, the artist or the writer has to be their own authority. I think sometimes compromise is the kiss of death. Yeah, that sounds a little drastic and probably is, but life is short, and it’s way, way too easy to get caught up in what others will think, and I think that doing that is a sort of soul-denial on some level.
I’ve definitely fallen prey to it myself. Who hasn’t? I find myself re-thinking some changes I made to my memoir. Some I absolutely think were right on, insightful suggestions. I think there were things I originally sort of skirted around, that got deeper with each revision. And more clearly and succinctly described. Strangely, with editing, some parts got more raw, and I like that. There were a lot of non-essentials and extraneous bits in the first version, almost fluff, and I’m glad I axed it out. On the other hand, there are some things I’m not satisfied with, some things I took out that I loved, that I feel the story isn’t complete without. It’s been awhile too, so if I add them back in now, and re-read it over, I might have a clearer take on what truly adds to the story, and what doesn’t.
I guess what I’m saying is I want to make my book the absolute best I can make it, in my vision, what intuitively in my guts feels like the truest and deepest expression of the story I most want to tell, not necessarily the story someone else wants to hear. I think THAT is where the soul growth comes from, a dedication to the real inner truth.
It got me thinking about who we write for. A writing teacher I love used to say, “We write to be read,” which I think is true. For two amazing years I was part of the best writing group. Oh I could write volumes on how funny and deep and awesome those times were, some of my best memories ever, and something that I think changed everyone who was part of it, in a beautiful way. I was so prolific during those years, writing two hours every day, and I was definitely partly writing for them, which was great because this group welcomed everything real. It helped me get over a fear of being truthful about difficult things. It helped me get over a fear of reading difficult things. In that group, we laughed and cried and shared. That group was a great big permission slip to be as candid as humanly possible. It was sort of like unconditional artistic love, that group. And so yeah, I wrote for them. There was one woman who had the hugest, heartiest, loudest laugh. And I often felt like I wrote with her laugh in the back of my mind. Which was great – and that was great, because I let my humor come through, dark or otherwise and sort of helped that blossom in my writing, and helped me find irony and humor in lots of things, and be free to express.
I think we do write (or create) to be read or seen or heard or understood, so in a sense we write for others, but I also do think that we have to write for ourselves first. So I really liked that Vonnegut quote, the whole soul growth thing, I think that is possibly the only important rule to follow as a writer. I also like that the quote pays attention to small, daily acts of art and creativity as well. The playful things. The things that aren’t for any serious project or pursuit, like singing in the shower. I think I’d say that anything done with passion falls into that soul growth category, and is a good thing to remember.
So, those are some thoughts for this Friday morning, all relevant to figuring out my next move in life…more on that in later blogs.
“Haven’t You Heard?” – Jeff Buckley. Funny, this song always reminds me of a great moment in that writing group I mentioned. This song, which I love, during probably the most poignant, passionately heartbroken, difficult and rich summer of my life, started a fight between my sister and I, and later the next day, a huge fight with my mom. I wrote about that summer, this song and the fight and read it to said group, and one of the other writers told me that I had inspired her to feel great heights of lust and then rage in a matter of paragraphs, and that was exactly the sort of thing that made me write with those ladies in mind, that inspired me to write most passionately from the core of the soul.