The secret is that it isn’t the writer who decides whether or not his work is relevant. Instead it’s the reader. – Margaret Atwood
When I spent my days teaching college students creative writing, I heard – at least once a class – this statement and its variations – “I don’t like to edit my work. It’s at its best and purest in its first draft.” I have always understood this statement – have felt it often myself – but still I know it is wrong, unless of course the writer is keeping a journal. Then, she can write as pure as she wants.
Otherwise, we need to revise because revision is about making our vision available to other people, and as Atwood notes, it’s the reader that decides how relevant, powerful, effective, powerful a piece of writing is.
But here’s the paradox of writing as I see it: we have to write for ourselves first. We have to fall knees over ears for our work, let ourselves tumble whole into it, first, or we won’t stay attached to it. We’ll snip the tether that binds it to us and let is disappear into the ether or unshared words.
(This is true, of course, for any passion – if we do not love it, how do we expect others to fall in love?)
So how do we let ourselves love our work in a culture and society that says, in various iterations:
- art is irrelevant
- money is paramount
- doing anything just because it pleases you is selfish
- you cannot expect support from other people when you do something wholly because you love it
- time spent on anything that does not “produce” is wasted?
Here’s what I do, and I offer it as a series of options from which you might take what you can use and discard the rest into a compost pile.
- I spend time with people who value and create art. Whether it’s at dinner parties or online or through books and blogs, I find my way to these folks every day so that not only do I know that I have company but also to remind myself that I love these people and I respect what they do. If I love them and find their work valuable, surely, I can show some compassion to myself and my art.
- I recognize the ugly voices inside myself as lies. When I hear that voice which says “You’re so lazy” each and every time I decide to sit and sew and think for a bit or just wander around the yard, I turn my mind toward it and tell it to “Back off.” Then, I listen to the place that needs rest and time to ponder, and I fan that spark of flame near my heart.
- I push back against the people who say that art is useless, that money is most important, that putting passion before practicality is reckless. I write posts like this to stake out my claim on creativity. I respond to Facebook comments and blog posts with a challenge to that way of thinking (with as much generosity of spirit as I can muster.) I don’t engage with all the writing and talking that makes this world about “gathering wealth,” and I don’t give my money (which is the point for those works, right?) to those things.
- I create something every, single day. Most days, the things I create bring me only the quite satisfaction of having done my real work. But that quiet settling of spirit makes me happy and gives me joy, and you can’t buy joy.
I still struggle. I struggle every day with placing my value as a person in the hands of the people who read my work. I battle that challenge every day.
But when I can separate myself from the work, when I can let my readers value what I say and NOT who I am, when I ground myself in the art that feeds my soul, the work that a loving Creator has called me to do, then I stand straight, write strong, and open wide my heart. . . . the heart that needs to beat in the open world of creativity.
My writing is up for critique by the people who read it. My heart is not .
What about you? For whom do you write? How do you feed and love on your beautiful, creative soul?