Sunday, March 12, 2006

Inspiration vs. Perspiration

In a comment to my post the other day about the creative process, HawkOwl commented:

I think the "flash of lightning" method is actually detrimental both to one's writing and one's development as a writer. First, if you are not writing out of your conscious mind, the reader's conscious mind is going to find gaping holes in your construct; and second, if you are not generating your ideas consciously, you are gonna be stuck for ideas when you need to move the story along and get 'er done. And meanwhile you are not learning to make things work. You are just faking it and calling it "inspiration" rather than "grasping at straws." (And by "you" I mean "one," of course, not you personally.) That's fine if writing is a hobby, but if you're hoping to write in a commercially viable way, I think you have to ditch the "muse," "flash of lightning," "talking characters" system and take charge of creative direction yourself.

Firstly, I think I should say that I appreciate having my beliefs challenged, as long as it's done in a rational and non-confrontational way. That helps me see other sides to the issue and forces me to re-think my position, often to my benefit. So, thank you, HawkOwl. I hope that you and others will continue to help me grow and progress in my thinking about the world and my place in it.

Now to the matter at hand: I think this is one of those cases where we will just have to agree to disagree. I believe in an integrative approach to writing: that is, using both sides of the brain. Inspiration and perspiration both have their appropriate places and both have vital parts to play in creativity. I agree that raw inspiration without conscious guidance is a recipe for disaster. The trick is to find the proper balance.

I believe that craft without art is just dead words on paper. It may lead to good writing, and often will have good value as entertainment. Writers who write this way may even have very long and lucrative careers. That's fine for those who are satisfied with that. I am not.

I believe that my writing serves a larger purpose than just entertainment. I am compelled to find and imbue my writing with meaning. If I learn nothing from my writing, then my readers certainly won't, and I question whether that is worth my time and effort. I strive to create a little beauty, a touch of art, a taste of truth in the world. Is that hubris? the overweening pride that leads to a great Humpty-Dumpty fall? Many think so, and they might be right. If I don't try, though, I will fail before I even start.

Art and craft both have their parts to play in moving beyond good writing to great writing. I forget who originally said that writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration, but they came close to what I believe. I just give inspiration more credit than that. In practical terms, I believe that first drafts have be motivated by and imbued with inspiration, though still guided to some extent by the conscious mind in order to prevent the kind of aimless wandering that HawkOwl refers to. This is how I learn.

The flailing about and claiming "art for art's sake" is what separates the Artistes and poseurs from the "real" writers. Writing without careful attention to craft is verbal masturbation, a waste of everybody's time. If the audience cannot understand the art, then I don't consider it art. "Careful attention to craft" is key to my creative process. So is careful attention to inspiration.

I have no quarrel with anyone who chooses to believe otherwise. To each his own. Neither am I going to tread upon the "What is Art?" minefield. I will just say this: my writing is my way of searching for meaning. I think it has commercial potentail, as well. I hope so, and I intend to make it so. In order to win big rewards, though, whether financially or spiritual, I realize that I have to place myself at dire risk. This is why I choose to ride the lightning. If I can tame it, the potential rewards are limitless, if not, it may well destroy me. I'm willing to take that chance.

It may be that only those of us who have looked into the eyes of Death and seen the pitiless inevitability there that can truly understand why I believe these things. Life is too short, too short by far to spend time just existing, just being good enough. The search for meaning, purpose, and truth is the only thing that makes life worth the struggle and the pain.


At 12:06 AM, Blogger HawkOwl said...

I'm glad I didn't offend you. Sometimes what I think of as "rational" comes across as totally b****y.

That being said, I think we actually agree more than we disagree, we're just taking different meanings of "inspiration." Inspiration of the "amen" variety is great. There is nothing wrong with bringing that kind of inspiration forth into art. I loooooove Haydn and Bach and they were definitely very "inspired" people. Inspiration of the "rent is due so I'm gonna put my feces in a mason jar and sell it as Art," that's bad. I think we pretty much agree there. What I was more getting at with my earlier comment is that once one has a book deal with a deadline, it's good to be able to turn it out under pressure, inspired or not.

On the other hand, your last paragraph is the very opposite of what I believe. But that's ok too. :)

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Carter said...

Oh, Lord, HawkOwl, you're going to have to try a lot harder than that to offend this old rhinoceros. :)

I completely agree with what you just said. When you're under a deadline, the time for inspiration is long past. That's when the perspiration part takes over completely. Inspiration belongs in the early stages -- first draft, definitely, second, probably, third, maybe. After that, just git 'er done.

That last little bit is just me indulging in melodrama. It's perfectly ignorable.


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