I’ve been sick these past few days and focusing on taking care of my health. I wasn’t able to do a final update before the end of NaNo (which I won!), but I did want to write up a reflection on the past month still.
To start with, I’d like to discuss my lowest point during November, which was when I randomly scrolled upon this quote on Twitter…
This quote, and similar quotes like it, are demotivational and uninspiring for me as a writer when I come across them. Especially when I look up the source and find that this sort of attitude comes from a person that is clearly in a different mindset/environment than I am. I tend to lessen my irritation with a soothing balm of context this way, but just like an inspiring quote could have me writing for days, an uninspiring quote can keep me from enjoying writing for days. When that happens, it just sucks.
On a certain subconscious level, it bothers me beyond the momentary inconvenience. The ‘If you struggle, you shouldn’t do it‘ extrapolated logic that these kind of quotes play into bothers me because I feel it can be used as a subversive tactic to whittle down aspiring artists in the creative playing field while at the same time uplifting and patting the backs of already established creatives.
Now, I’m aware there’s the strong possibility that Le Guin didn’t intend such a thing in her quote. After all, “Life is short, art is long” is an old quote that a formal painting mentor of mine used to tell me. I know a great amount of internal and external work goes into expressing artistic creations in a way that can be comprehended by other human beings, let alone viable to spread in a marketplace.
I’m sure if I was personally more established, if I was further along in my journey as a writer, with a readership or ongoing series and what not, that perhaps I would greatly agree with the quote above. But it wasn’t so much the quote that bothered me, but that it was posted by a Twitter account presented as… what exactly?
Sometimes I feel that accounts that post writerly-based quotes aren’t always writer-friendly or accepting of differences in processes. There is a line between inspirational and demoralizing, a line that is probably drawn in different spots of each of us. In example, a drill instructor could be considered demoralizing, but there is a large group of people that would still be motivated by being screamed insults at.
Personally, my line tends to be whether something is meant to be inclusive or exclusive. Author advice that depends on or encourages cutting other people out of writing or claiming that only certain people are “real writers” pisses me off. Stemming from that, advice that suggests there is only one true and right way to interact with creativity also bothers me a great deal.
Of course, the sheer fact that something like reading that quote was able to demotivate me from my writing is just something I can’t ignore. It means that there is something within the quote (or the presentation of it) that grates against an area in which I could possibly improve or strengthen. At the very least, I can learn more about myself and my relationship with the medium of literature.
Another paradigm often put forth online is the one that writers also have to be voracious readers (gonna blame that one Stephen King quote). This stance similarly annoys me. The reason why, however, is because it shines a spotlight on the fact that I don’t read as much as I used to, nor do I really consider myself a reader (despite that I frequently am reading creative works, just not always “books”).
In addition to my personal dynamic, I do not agree with it regardless. I do agree that reading often will boost vocabulary comprehension, offer more readily accessible understanding of grammar, and provide inspiration for techniques to apply in your own works.
But does being a reader = being a writer? Not at all, no.
Does ‘not being a reader =/= being a writer”? No, I don’t believe so.
So, quotes that claim such a thing or are presented to make such logic the norm, tend to bother me.
Similarly, logic that claims ‘a writer who struggles with writing isn’t a writer’ bothers me too. It assumes all writers begin with a perfect understanding of their process. For instance, devices to “coax staying focused” tend to be techniques that I’m trying out to see if they work for me or not. Because if I don’t try new creative things out… how am I ever going to know if I like it or not? How will I ever improve?
When I am surrounded by tools that I’ve never touched, why wouldn’t I pick them up and see if they could help me construct these creations that I’m building? Some of the tools will be useless; I don’t need a screwdriver to nail a board… but if I pick up that hammer on a whim, it’ll sure be a lot better than the rock I was using before.
For a quote like Le Guin’s to be fully accurate, a person would have to be already accustomed to a fixed perspective on life and the works they are creating.
Passion is a tricky thing. There is such a thing as bursts of passion, inspirational passion as I’ll call it. Then there is long-term passion, which I would term purposeful passion.
While writing a manuscript over a year’s time, these spheres of passions wax and wane.
Participating in NaNoWriMo is an exercise of inspirational passion at full blast with hints of purposeful passion here and there. I would also make room to include Willful Passion, which is similar to purposeful passion, but in a different sphere of influence.
So, with three spheres of passion, I find that a lot of author quotes about motivation being there or what not are focusing on either inspirational passion or purposeful passion, but they don’t often make this distinction apparent to those who glance at them.
While I won’t claim to know what was going on in the author’s heads when they say such quotes, I will guess that a lot of them actually refer to purposeful or willful passion or some sort of interplay between the three, but a lot of aspiring writers read them as only meaning inspirational passion.
Take this commonly spread Pearl S. Buck quote, similar to many like it that are usually presented in a way that suggests if you wait for a “muse” then there is something wrong with your writing process or you won’t ‘cut it’ as a ‘real writer’…
I would suggest that what Pearl is commenting on here is that while Inspirational Passion can feel fresh and exciting like a new lover, that a creative person should also give energy to Purposeful and Willful passions as well. This is a nice way of saying that she is directly pitting inspirational passion against willful passion in some kind of warring dichotomy (often presented as right or wrong) and she’s not the only author who has given similar advice in quotes.
Saying something like “your mind must know it has got to get down to work” would be a direct example of what I mean by Willful Passion; you are literally exerting your will into/onto passion to continue creating something regardless of whether the inspirational passion is waxing or waning.
Willful Passion is the engine in the sailboat, something that could be used as a back-up or used to compensate for the lack of gusting winds that would otherwise glide you along the ocean of creativity to the magical land of manifestation.
Metaphoring aside, this sort of quote doesn’t bother me as much because there is truth to honing the ability to actually finish things as a writer (lol, which whenever I say that, I always think of Neil Gaiman now).
Of course I agree with this because if I didn’t I wouldn’t be still working to freaking finish something already.
But I do think there should be more discussion about the differences in motivation and passion. Writing should be an inclusive artform because a lot of people know how to actually do it, many more than authors who had peaks in the 80s-90s could possibly understand (or for their ego’s sakes, want to comprehend). There is a grand difference between the world of writing pre-internet and the world of writing post-internet.
So, context is my soothing balm. Understanding that every quote has its place, yet every statement can be drawn out to be applicable to most situations, and there is so much more to the creative process of writing than what a single person is capable of thinking, asserting, or saying in less than 150 words.
Quotes can be applied, but they aren’t the answer.
So, that’s a quick reflection on my lowest point during NaNo and a general muttering of how I feel about creative-advice quotes.
Looking back on November, I remember more low points than high. While in the midst of writing my novella, a few bouts of depression caused a struggle.
I have often struggled with my creativity in this way. Not that I don’t have creativity or inspiration when I’m depressed, but that sometimes delving into my creativity can cause depression-like symptoms to surface. The reason I would guess is the trigger of contemplation.
Personally, I love to contemplate things – possibilities, people, events, real or fiction, acceptable or taboo, anything, everything. The very existence of certain things intrigues and interests me. But when I am creating a written work of art, I think a little bit more than usual, I contemplate a bit deeper and almost always, this lends to a strange depression that in turn leads me to a nihilistic perspective on life and my existential interaction with it.
Perhaps depression is not exactly the right term for it. It’s an easy term, similar and simple, but perhaps not a perfect fit. It’s a strange sort of emotional and mental torture that I’ve dealt with since I can remember. And perhaps that is why I am pursuing writing for I am drawn to torture myself on a daily basis, but at the same time it feels like writing offers relief, escape, or purpose to such torment even while at the same time, it exacerbates it. If only I could channel what I feel inside so that it somehow is communicated to others, if only I could explain my perceptions and deeper thoughts that I rarely am able to share in ordinary interactions.
Spirituality has a place for me here. Writing can be a spiritual act for me and a lot of my Purposeful Passion is based within my eclectic spirituality. I want to expand literature some, in this way, and offer people stories that they have not read before and will expand their own perceptions and understandings. Not preaching this way or that, but sharing thought. This is something I am still working on techniques with.
But then, there is also my Willful Passion. And my will wants to be successful. Success to me means not only a readership and published works that are enjoyed, respected, and understood by a fair amount, but an income derived from my creations.
While I once considered giving away all of my stories for free and what not… within the capitalist society which I was born, raised and live, I decided that is simply not my way. It is a way, but not the one that is appropriate for the time and place and what I am looking to accomplish.
My novels are works of art. For instance, I’ve been working on my classical fantasy for over 3 years now and so, no, I do not want to give it away for free similarly I would not want to give away prints of an oil painting for just free in the modern society where I exist.
Most of all though, money symbolizes an exchange of energy. My works are literally my energy poured through language and formed into something to read. For such energy offered, I require energy to be given back to me. Money is the easiest, simplest, and most distant form to do this with.
So, while my purpose lies in spirit, my will lies in respect, reputation, and wealth. My inspiration lies in a chaotic realm impossible to define.
Moving forward, I’m not sure what I will be doing in December. I would like to publish my novella. I’ve already started setting up the platform to launch it with. But I still have editing before me and a cover to create. I’ve considered hiring people, but I really don’t want to until it’s super obvious I can’t do it myself…
Because the thing is, this novella is a practice. It’s to learn Kindle for myself and it’s to see how I react to the process with something that isn’t so close to my heart as my novels are. I don’t expect to make money with it, which is why I’m discouraged to pay an editor or cover artist to help. I would like for it to make money, of course, because the more income I have, the more I can just focus on writing my novels and not doing other life-things that create income.
Meanwhile I might blog here and there. No promises, but I might. There’s been a lot of writer/creative themes on my mind and this space is a good spot for me to work through such thoughts.
Also, I do consider requests so if you’re interested in some discussion on a particular topic, comment and I might write about it.