The work of an artist is continuous. It is not dependent on being published, or honored or even recognized. An artist practices her art everyday to expand and improve. To bring up her art and take it to a higher level. Two outstanding glaring examples of this is Emily Dickinson and Prince. Dickinson worked diligently on a single new poem everyday without even the smallest thought or prospect of being published. She was virtually a recluse and requested that her work be burned upon her death. She did it for the art of it.
Prince left enough unpublished music in his personal vault to record 100 more albums. Those close to him say he wrote a new song everyday. His brother-in-law says Prince worked non-stop for nearly a week leading up to his death (don’t know if thats even possible but Prince worked hard enough that his brother-in-law felt it was non-stop for nearly a week). These are artist practicing their art…refining their art…perfecting their art, for the art of it.
The University of Conn women just won their fourth championship in a row. It’s a hell of an accomplishment but what makes them so great? It does not make sense that the coach gets all of the best players in the country. UConn’s players are great but they are not the only great players in the country. There are a lot of female basketball players just as great as Breanna Stewart or Moriah Jefferson. What makes these players play on a different level than the other players? Preparation, folks, preparation. Before this team demolished their opponents in the championship game, they trained like hell to get ready to win. Their coach is the difference between great potential and great achievement. He prepares his team like no other coach in his profession. He brought in a marine sergeant to teach his players mental toughness. He also trained them like marine recruits. Most people (mediocre people) would say this is excessive for college sports. Gene Auriemma, Conn’s head coach, would disagree (as he heft his tenth trophy). Anyone who understands greatness would disagree. Greatness does not result from doing what you’ve always done. Greatness is a result of taking it to another level. A level the vast majority is too scared or too lazy to reach for. It is not easy or fun or quick. It is work…a lot of it. It is tedious and sometimes boring. It is a lot of shit work to get to the good stuff. Nope…I’m not just talking about a basketball game.
I’ve just been booted from my latest writing group. In all fairness I never went so I do understand. And while we all want to be included in the cliques and have smoke blown up our asses, we would also like to be published and I don’t think that was going to happen as long as I stayed where it was comfortable, hence: I never went. I want to be published. I want an editor to kiss my ass and throw money at me. I want J K Rowlings dollars and readers. I want fanatical fans standing in lines wrapped three blocks around the corner of Costco to get a copy of my book and to just see me. I want to do what Oprah did for book clubs. I want it all. And while I am not hating on either ebooks or self publishing I don’t want to do it. I want my hardcopy book in the hands of every reader on the subway. I want the riders missing their stops because they can’t put me down. So I guess I’m trading comraderie and wine and soft critique for research and writing for four hours a day until its done and then finding an agent and a tough but honest writing group that I respect more than I like. It breaks my heart but it feeds my soul.
Ok…ok…ok…it was bull shit. I am not trashing the novel I worked so long and so hard on. I am finishing it. I left my day job and the time is now. I am setting up a writing schedule and keeping it. You should join me. Let’s not bullshit together. Octavia Butler once bought a fifty pound bag of white potatoes and gave her self until the end of that bag to either publish something or quit writing. I don’t like white potatoes. But I left my good-government-job with the benefits and great pay so its like a very huge bag of potatoes I’m walking away from so…the time is now. Shall we?
“You want to be a writer, don’t know how or when? Find a quiet place, use a humble pen.”
― Paul Simon
It is said that Zora Neale Hurston wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God in six weeks. Six Weeks!!!!!!! This is the book she is known for! So why haven’t I finished the novel I’ve been writing for the last ten years????!!!!! Sooooo…I am finishing this damn novel in this year! If this novel is not finished and through re-writes by years end, I’m burning it and starting a new one because apparently the one I’m working on is sh*t. That’s it. That’s my post. That’s my commitment.
Shonda Rhimes is the creator of two television shows that won Emmy awards last night. Twenty years ago that would have been beyond anyone’s imagination that such a thing could happen. Well, it has. You don’t see your story in the media? Well, create it. Don’t wait for someone else to recognize or acknowledge you. Grab the world be the ass and let everyone know that you are here! Write your own damn story!
Ever heard of the short and the long of a subject. Old people say it often: here comes the short and the long of it, meaning the entire story of whatever story is being told or generally the entirety of a thing. Well, writing has a short and long too. The short of it is easy to master…it’s the long of it that’s a bitch. Most beginner writers can master a few great pages. It’s the entire story or the entire book that presents a problem. I have several friends who can write a brilliant…four pages. Any story that goes beyond that is an incoherent mess. And there is nothing wrong with four great pages. Flash fiction is built on the short of it. But…if you want to make the leap to the long of it then you have to master the long of it. Practice. Practice. Practice. Learn to sustain conflict. Learn to write interesting characters. Learn the difference between plot and story. Learn everything you can cram into your head about sustaining drama, suspense, hurling towards climax, believable but challenged characters, the growth of characters, etc. Then incorporate these things into your writing. Be able to write the short and the long of it.
I recently heard an interview of Toni Morrison on Beloved. She said she wanted to tell this story of a woman who wanted to protect her kids from slavery so she decided to kill them rather than let them be re-enslaved by her former master. The story was a true story she had discovered in an old newspaper clipping. She said she struggled with how to tell this story so she decided the only person that could judge this mother justly was the dead baby and thus, Beloved was born. And then she said something that fascinated me…well all of Toni Morrison fascinates me but this was something extra. She said she considered how it must feel to have a mother that tried to kill you. The small things like eating her food and going to sleep around her. In that moment of listening to Toni, the essence of what we do occurred to me. It is these small tedious things that inform our work, that makes it come alive to the reader. Of course the huge, magnanimus acts are remembered but what connects us to our readers are those things that make us human. Fear, love, hunger, boredom. These are the very human emotions that propel our stories off the paper and into the readers minds. Because we have the same desires and inclinations in our own lives we can understand and relate to who people end up in dire circumstances that started very simply. That’s writing guys, that’s writing.