Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

What do I do if what I write is shit? From merde to manure.

I have adapted the material into short stories, detailed the plots of the first eight short stories, then put down the text of the first in a few thousand words. Like most things, it would be beneficial to keep writing until its done so that I can improve the overall structuring of viewpoint and narrative, but today I found myself unaccountably convinced it was simply shit and nothing good could come of it, despite several years of careful research, world-building, character shaping, etc.

This is a crucial issue for beginning professional writers, related to the perceptions of the overall process of creation while it occurs, and I began this entry with the obvious question to which I (and other writers also) need an answer:


There are immediate and long term remedies for this problem.

The immediate remedy is to stop, rest, recoup and do something productive other than writing. The benefits of the day job as not always clear until I am frustrated about work that does not seem quite right. Then, when I need to do something, else, it is a boon.

The long term remedy is to undermine my arrogant faith in my perfect opinion of myself as a writer. The simple fact is, I am not the arbiter of excellence in writing... my readers are. And their enjoyment and education is contingent on my attitude of service. Because writers work alone it is difficult to realize that we in fact provide a vital service to others. Books are not merely a business, they are also a contribution to society. And there is no end to books published that you and I would consider to be, yes, "shit". But that is a matter of perspective. This point is driven home diplomatically by critic and writer Andre Gide, a man whose taste in writing was the most astringent I have even known, who said in his Journals: Sometimes I look at a certain kind of book and wonder who on earth could read such a thing; and then I meet certain people and I realize who read them.

To make the long term remedy very clear it is useful to realise what aspects of the writing process we can control, and what aspects we cannot:

I cannot control whether what I write is good or bad, because the terms, "good" and "bad" are relative to the particular readers of the piece. I cannot control how long the piece will take to write, because I cannot be sure when the piece is to be considered excellent. I cannot ever create a perfect piece of writing, only a potentially excellent piece of writing. I cannot rely on emotions to guide me in the quality of the work, nor can I rely on friends or family to guide me in the quality of my work; I can only rely on agents, publishers, assessors, editors, and professional writers with editing experience to guide me accurately in the quality of my work. So I am in the dark on many matters of great importance when it comes to writing.

I can, however, control several factors:

- Writing at all. I can and do write, which sets me apart from non-writers, would-be writers, and journal or therapy writers.

- Writing to finish. I can finish what I write. This has several benefits: I can criticise the plotting of a complete piece, while a partial piece has no plot curve to critique. I can clearly see in a complete piece, even if it is terrible, the changes in character over time, or lack thereof. The highest benefit of a finished piece is that it may merit the criticism of a qualified agent, publishers, assessor, editor, of experienced professional writer, so finishing writing has definite educational benefits.

- Writing pieces I am adequate to. If I am not adequate to write a novel it is an exercise in despair pretending I can. Adequateness is not related to self-esteem, but is an impersonal capacity to contain and carry through the creative process. It is a muscle that increases with use also. So a beginning professional is better creating successfully an excellent curve of a two thousand word short story, that working on a series of long stories. Because novel-writing is a different form, it is better to think in terms of novellas (30 thousand words long) that can be evolved into grown up novels, than to work and start and stop on futile novel projects that never bear fruit.

- Finally, I can control my reactions. It is natural to have no idea where I am going when I write, because I am making it up. Confusion, frustration, despair, inadequacy, irritation, boredom - these are normal learning emotions. So I can control my reactions by accepted these experiences.

I believe in writers block like I believe in the tooth fairy: both exist to help children handle pain. The idea of a "writer's block" is a good way to pretend you do not have control over your choices and thoughts, and an excellent way to deny that you have no control over the outside world.

Abandoning the notion of writer's block has a blear benefit, however. Acceptance of the nature of writing itself allows for a clear-eyed acceptance of the craft of writing.

In turn, appeciation of the craft of writing leads to an comprehension of the nature of talent. Samuel Clemens said that genius is 99% perspiration but I think that is a whiteknuckling and overly macho way to say it. Talent is more precisely the expression of great patience, caring determination, and accumulated capacity over time. Talent aligns aspects of egotism within a coherent intention to provide a service, in much the same way a corportate invisibly organised multiple employees to provide services that governments or individuals alone could not. But talent is also manifested as an expression of the willingness to learn from errors. The developmental processes we tend to describe as talent gradually culminate in the ability to let go of one's personal selfish agenda when creating, and experience one's own Voice as an impersonal quality of self.

Writers talk about "finding their voice", when in fact it is merely revealed when we drop the barriers to it. The sense of one's creative voice is distinct from one's day to day sense of self by virtue of the great, clean, clear sense of openness in the throat and chest. The throat especially seems to open up like a blossoming flower, and creating can be a great joy in those often brief times.

It is after the flowering that the craftsman returns to his intention to provide service, and his commitment to being willing to learn. If creating is a flowering or fruiting plant, then an intention to give service is the earth of creation, and willingness to grow the roots of creation. You cannot block the process of growth, life and death any more than you can block plants from growing freely everywhere.

By accepting shit writing, by creating more and more and more shit writing, sooner or later the material manures and generates a fertile creative state. Nature's efficiency in due time recycles our bad work into our good.


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