Monday, August 3, 2015

Going Up Against Anaïs Nin

Okay, I'm punching way above my weight class here, but I'm annoyed and I'm not at work and the Muse has gotten Inspiration out of hammer space and clobbered me in the head with it,

From the anime Vividred Operation? Sourced here.
so I'm just going to go ahead and do this.

Joe Kawano posted this quote (abridged) on Twitter. It's not his fault I'm pissed off but shout out to him and transmedia.

The quote is from Anaïs Nin, and it's this:
If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it.
Okay. No.

First of all, under no circumstances should you listen to anyone who tells you that you shouldn't fucking write. Believe me, if they are correct, it will not take you long to discover it all by yourself. No one else needs to communicate that information to you! At least on the basis of quality. Go ahead and keep telling the trolls to shut the fuck up and why.

Second, according to Wikipedia Anaïs Nin herself began writing by selling erotica to some guy for a dollar a page as a half-joke, half-desperate-need-for-rent. Which is an avenue I'm exploring myself and I don't see any shame in it. But in total awareness that I'm yelling at a dead woman whose body of work is vastly superior to my own: pot and the fucking kettle!

But what I'm really steamed about is the idea that you need to write in the throws of passion, or some strong emotion, to be doing it properly. Uh uh. I've done it before, and while I've produced some prime words that way it feels like sticking a fucking knife through my heart and leaving it there. And then picking up another knife.

I'd like to point out that Diane Keaton's character was wildly successful for years before she got her heart broken. Sourced here.
Also, those prime words? None of them have been published, either because I don't want to expose certain parts of my soul, or because I ended up with a high-quality scene disconnected from any other narrative. Could I build a story around a scene of passion? Absolutely. But there's a hell of a lot of bloodless, tiring word-churning involved I haven't done yet.

Look, if you're doing something creative for awhile without spectacular, immediate success, you're going to wonder if you should keep doing it. Here's the test. Take stock of your work and ask if you're doing it to meet a requirement, or meet a need.

I'll give you an example. In college I took computer programming classes because I wanted a job I could make good money at while I wrote. (Whether this was a good strategy I leave to posterity to decide.) Happily I got really into programming and thought "Hey! Maybe I can make video games! I love playing video games and I love writing, so making them myself should be ideal!"

So I read a book on graphics programming and learned the skills. And then I read another one. And another one. I spent hundreds of dollars on stupidly expensive programming books, trying to catch the right inspiration to make that killer game I wanted to make. But after years of this, I realized that I never went very far beyond doing the exercises in those books. I wasn't making anything I wanted to make, I was just doing wrote exercises over and over again. I was meeting the requirement these books set for me, then tossing them aside and moving on to the next book. I don't buy game programming books anymore.

With writing I don't have this problem. I can't meet a word count target to save my life, but I've got scads of notes and ideas and scraps and scenes and entire fucking novels in my trunk. A lot of this shit might never get published, and I may never do well enough writing to pay my bills or make a full-time career out of it. But I can't stop. I tried! And all I did was waste money on game programming books. I write to meet a need I have to express myself.

In short, if writing or painting or music or programming meets an inner desire, if it fulfills you, go to it as hard as you can. But if you're only doing it to meet an external demand, well, maybe try something else for awhile. The worst that happens is you come back to what you were doing in the first place, with a few new experiences to play with.

Now, I will encourage you to let emotion take you while you're writing. If you're pissed off, or crying, or laughing while you write a scene, that's a very good thing! But it's not a guarantor of quality (you still gotta polish that nacre into a pearl, fella), and it sure as hell isn't the litmus test for whether your writing is worthwhile. And now I feel obligated to purchase something by Anaïs Nin, so if anyone cares to make a suggestion, I'm all ears. Er, eyes.

*opens Amazon*

Wow, her stuff is not Kindle-friendly, is it...

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