Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Fruit Basket Turnover

My life is officially in a state of higgledy-piggledy. At present, I am in the midst of:
  • the last week of Winter Quarter. Which means I have a Library full of semi-hysterical students frantically trying to finish the assignments they have been ignoring for the past 9 weeks.
  • applying for a new position at the College. Which will mean better pay and benefits, but also a longer commute and a much different schedule.
  • scheduling appointments with the dermatologist to see about a suspicious mole and with the hospital to do a sleep study to see if I have Obstructive Sleep Apnea. I'm overweight, I snore, and I don't get restful sleep. My money's on "Yes". 100 to 1 the mole is nothing, but it still scares the Hell out of me.
  • 30 days until Dooms--, I mean Tax Day. I just can't get motivated to get this crap finished and mailed. I wonder why?
  • A highly secret project that I'm excited about, having a lot of fun with, and hope will make me a little pocket money. We'll see in a month or two.
  • Spring! Which means getting the garden planted and gearing up for the annual War of the Vines, in which Your Hero does battle with ravening hordes from the tribes of Wisteria, Honeysuckle, Greenbriar, and Wild Blackberry. Which also means that my neighbors will be lighting the woods on fire at any time now, since they're too damn sorry to rent a Bush Hog to clear their land.

And so it goes. Expect me when you see me.

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.