Thoughts on Writing

On her blog Tribal Writers, Justine Musk posted a sort of manifesto. It consists of a number of short statements, and several of them struck me. So I thought I would write about them.

Become your own revolution.

I think you have to. You can join a political revolution, believe in a shared vision of government or the state. But as an artist, you have to express your own vision. You can’t really do anything else. It’s almost a default setting. You can protest as a group, but you create as an individual. We do join groups, of course we do. Artists get lonely. Although the ones being most creative also tend to create their own groups. Hence labels such as New Weird and Mythpunk. I love those sorts of groups, those sorts of labels, because I think they’re ways for us to see and think about literature. They give us, as artists, new ideas about what it is we do, or can do. And I think that’s good. I wouldn’t describe myself, as a writer, by any of those labels, although my work does fit into several. If I had to choose a label, I would call myself a member of the Romantic Underground. But that’s not a group. It’s a statement about some of the art being produced nowadays and how it relates to our artistic and literary history. I find it a useful category for what I do.

In the end, however, we all produce alone, out of our own consciousness, using our own imagination. That makes our work individual, and so we are each our own revolutions. Perhaps the important concept in this statement is really revolution. Be a revolution. Now, today, go become one.

You don’t know who you are until you know what you can do.

I think that’s absolutely right. What I do, even what I fail to do, teaches me who I am. I had a moment, perhaps a year ago now, when I looked at my writing and realized that I was not the person I had thought. I was less of a genre fantasy writer than I had assumed. I was more experimental, more intellectual. It was a strange realization about myself, and it made me reevaluate myself as a person. I learned a lot about myself from that.

And there is another component to this statement: it’s the process of discovering who you are that teaches you what you can do. The more I learn about myself, the more I realize what it is I can accomplish.

Practice deliberately. You have to fail in order to grow.

I think what this means is, you have to do the things that could result in failure. You can’t just do what you’re already comfortable doing. You have to take on the projects that scare you, that you’re not quite certain you can actually succeed at.

My only problem with this statement is that I can’t remember the last time I failed. I mean, the story I took to Sycamore Hill last summer was a failure, in some sense, because it will need extensive revisions. And I’m not sure I’m going to put in that effort. But was it really a failure? I learned so much from writing it and having it critiqued. It’s one of the things that taught me the lesson I mentioned above. So what is a failure, really? Perhaps the definitional problem is that if a failure gives you the opportunity to realize things about yourself, to grow as an individual and an artist, it’s not really a failure anymore.

The more you educate yourself, the more intuitive you become.

The more I incorporate into myself, the more comes out of me, almost without my thinking about it. My ideas become more interesting, more complex. So now I go around deliberately experiencing things, going to museums, seeing great art. Seeing natural spaces. Listening to music. Learning things, not as research but simply to become a particular type of person, out of whom interesting, complex writing can come.

The creative life is not a hobby but a constant state of mind.

When I was growing up, my mother used to tell me that I could practice law as a profession and write on the side. You can’t write on the side. You can have a 60-hour-a-week day job on the side, which is what my teaching is sometimes. But if you are a writer, you will be a writer every moment of those sixty hours. It will affect the way you think, what you say. It certainly affects the way I teach.

You can be creative as a hobby. But the creative life – that is a constant state of mind. It’s something that’s always with you. And that sometimes makes ordinary life difficult, although it can also make life extraordinary.

It’s when you become the most excellent thief that people will find you original.

I don’t need to comment on this, since it’s been written about so many times. But I steal from other writers all the time. I steal from Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Arthur Conan Doyle. I hope they have insurance.

In the end, you love or you die. Love is better.

I’m not actually sure what this means, but I feel it. And I’m not at all sure it has to do with writing. I think it has to do with life. And I think it has to do with the fact that in the end, you either love (live passionately, following your own truth, finding what you need), or you die. End of story.

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