courage

I met a lot of talented writers at Antioch. My cohort still checks in weekly and we help keep each other encouraged, on track, etc. This morning, one phrase jumped out at me.  One woman was writing about courage and said she thinks of a number of things like the people dancing in the streets in Egypt, but she also mentioned  “all of us our face alight with the glow of submishmash clicking Send.” Isn’t that a great image?

One of the most sobering things I’ve heard on the artistic life was from Orson Wells. We always hear phrases like ‘cream rises to the top’ and so on, that if you’re talented, you will be recognized and have glorious success. He threw cold water on that hot hope. He said he’d seen dozens of very talented people never able to break through. So yes, courage is continually trying against the odds.

Esperanza Spalding just won Best New Artist at the Grammys last night. She’s quoted as being influenced by BB King (quoting Jesus) She said, “B.B. King once said ‘You can’t serve two masters,’ and to me, that means you have to decide if music is something that expresses that inner voice and the divine connection that is music, or [is] something created to meet other people’s expectations. I’ve chosen the path of serving that muse.”

It can be a struggle to focus on the work instead of continually thinking of the audience, especially in the performing arts, but it also applies to the literary arts. We do this not only for ourselves. Art is communication. You’re creating a relationship with a reader. It also led me to take a hard look at this new project. I’m not starting from scratch, but I am starting over in some sense. This time with an eye and ear for the muse, not what I think the audience (as opposed to my ideal reader) would like. The war of art continues…

what about all that advice?

Was talking to S the other day who said they (the infamous “they” again!) were telling a writing class that their first screenplay (in this case) would be bad. I’ve heard the same warning to new authors too, as if they should toss their first book. Sometimes it’s true. Sometimes it’s not. And what if you only have or choose to have one book or screenplay in you? Are you screwed? How do you know when it’s good?

What I’d say to new writers is that your first work won’t be a great as you initially think it is. Plenty of us think we’ve written a classic for the ages in that giddy time of finally finishing. That feeling doesn’t last. And then I’d tell them to put it away for a much longer cooling off period than they were planning. 2 weeks is not long enough for most people, especially when they are new to the process. Put it away for months: 2-6 months. Yes, really. Patience is essential to a long career. Next, get a professional set of eyes to read it over. Not your family (unless they are pros), not friends. Pay for it from a reputable source if you can afford it; trade for it if you can’t. Finally, get to work on the next book. Getting immersed in the next project takes a load of pressure off the last one. Agent rejections will still sting, but not as acutely if you’re exciting about a new work. Also, you will have that much more to be published when you finally do break through.

Well, what are you waiting for? Happy writing.