Disclaimer: Maybe I just don’t get it, and I’m willing to accept that.
“I’ve got the best job in the world. I craft universes. I create people and they tell me what they want. I’m a storyteller. I’m the bard in our global village.”
Sound familiar? You’ve probably heard it a dozen times, perhaps from some of your favorite storytellers/bards/creators/gods. I’m going to be straight with you folks here: I really dislike the spiritualization of writing.
Now, I don’t want to conflate this with the spiritual experience of writing. I’m not spiritual in any way, but I do get a euphoric buzz when I sense a job well done. If I write a nice line of dialog or clever metaphor, I get a little high. So, if someone tells me they have a spiritual experience when writing, I sort of get what they’re saying.
But I hate it when people talk about writing like they’re tuned into the energies of the universe; Like they hear the ethereal signal through all of the noise, and then, BOOM, they slap it down on the page and it’s magical. I think it’s wildly inaccurate to my experiences of writing, and it can be an irresponsible meme to perpetuate.
Let’s just accept the concept for a second and I’m going to frame the setting for you: you’re a novice writer, and you’re just getting to your first critique session. Maybe you’re the type of person that gets excited about what they’re doing, who believes in themselves.
And you get to your critique, and you find out how much your work totally sucks, because it does. No one nails it the first time.
But if we accept that writing is a channel into your perfect soul, and your writing sucks, what does that say about you? What does that say about your soul?
What about all the hard hours you’re going to work, where you can’t tell the difference between genius prose and rancid, juicy brainsquirts? If we accept that, to write, you need a connection to the Great Perfect Universe…
…then it follows that you are probably a broken radio–perhaps beyond repair. Maybe you’ll never hear the signal.
I don’t buy it.
When a successful author speaks, I think it should be in a language of empowerment. They should seek to render their inner workings transparent, so that others can come and marvel at the tireless efforts they put into their literary engines. Sometimes, those engines are beautiful, clockwork masterpieces, but never forget that every author started out banging rocks together to make a spark.
Because to me, the difference in the metaphor helps. My failed characters weren’t alive. I didn’t breathe quintessence into them, only to watch them arise, scream and gurgle their last within horrifying seconds of profane birth. (Remember, I wrote FOUR terrible screenplays and TWO terrible novels before I started to figure it out.)
They were just… broken. The engine didn’t run. I needed to put more work into it. I needed to upgrade the design, test some new theories, buy some new parts. Most importantly, if I walked away to try my hand at another engine, I wasn’t leaving my characters to rot, while their desperate ghosts plied me with stories untold.
It’s okay to be that weird person, making something ugly and useless. Who gives a shit that it’s not a lotus flower grown from the seeds of the cosmos? You made it. It’s broken, but parts are free. Go to the store and pick up some new ones.
Most of all, just be okay with where you’re at as a writer. If you keep at it, you’ll get there.