Whenever readers express their admiration for what I’ve created, I feel abashed. For many years I interpreted this as feeling fraudulent, as though surely I hadn’t written whatever they’d read or perhaps they were projecting their own unintegrated esteem onto me or buttering me up. Then I went through a spell of deliberately trying to take in others’ praise. I’ve earned it! I told myself. But that didn’t sit right. Later I tried practicing gratitude; the opportunity to have a reader read my words is a real gift, and doubly so when the reading experience matters to the reader.
Somehow, though, none of these reactions to others’ praise felt right. Was I conditioned to deflect compliments? Why, despite positive responses, did I never feel worthy? (more…)
Endel, an artist friend of mine, believes that the audience for a work of art emerges from the artist. Whoa! Let me say that again. Endel thinks that audience evolves from the artist through the art into the real people who encounter the art.
This makes my head spin. I’ve always thought of audience as a bunch of people scattered around the country like you, my faithful blog readers; I reach out to you with these words; you read them (or not) and become their audience (or don’t). When I write I have you in mind but I imagine you as separate from me in identity and body. I think of my words as bridging the gap between us.
Endel doesn’t. (more…)
One of the hardest things about creative writing, as far as I’m concerned, is the pervasive sense of getting nowhere. Sure, I might have a productive morning and crank out a few thousand words, but tomorrow I’ll cut half of them, and even if I don’t I’ll likely wait years before those words see the light of day. If I see them in print I’ll do a little jig. But I’ve published enough to know that publishing isn’t ultimately satisfying. What does satisfy is the creative journey itself and any journey my writing gives readers—but even this I rarely see. (more…)
Recently I was digging around on the Internet in search of the source of the Annie Dillard quotation I’ve been reflecting on for months. Turns out it’s from her book, Living By Fiction. Here’s the immediate context:
The most extreme, cheerful, and fantastic view of art to which I ever subscribe is one in which the art object requires no viewer or listener – no audience whatever – in order to do what it does, which is nothing less than to hold up the universe… Thoughts count. A completed novel in a trunk in the attic is an order added to the sum of the universe’s order. It remakes its share of undoing. It counteracts the decaying of systems, the breakdown of stars and cultures and molecules, the fraying of forms.
Dillard is more radical than I supposed—radical, that is, in the original sense of “forming the root.” She understands creativity to work at a metaphysical level, transforming the basic stuff of the universe. (more…)
The old joke goes like this: A visitor stops a local on the streets of New York and asks, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The New Yorker replies, “Practice.”
Every morning before school, Gwyn practices piano. She’s a musical kid; when she was four she begged for lessons and we made a family commitment: Piano would be our means for nurturing Gwyn’s natural interest. But Gwyn’s enjoyment of music, her inherent musicality, and her fantastic ear don’t add up to a love of practice. Practicing is hard, so we routinely endure the pre-practice, baby buffalo huffing with arms crossed. Practice is Gwyn’s means to screen time (read: bribery), and most days she needs our physical proximity on the piano bench in order to stay there.
Why bother with all this effort? (more…)
I’m still unpacking Annie Dillard’s statement that a “complete novel in a trunk in the attic is an order added to the sum of the universe’s order.” Why? It seems to me that creative people value our work almost exclusively with external measures—the fact of being published, sales numbers, reviews, literary recognition, etc. Sometimes we’re wise enough to value the process over the product; sometimes we orient our hearts toward how our stories impact the internal lives of our readers. But when it comes to feeling like our work matters, most often we lean on external measures for validation.
Dillard says that on some subterranean level, a fully developed but unread creative work makes a metaphysical difference in creation. Okay. Do we writers need to take this on faith? Or can we find concrete evidence?
Here’s the latest bit of evidence I’ve dug up. (more…)