So it was recently put to me that even though, as a blogger, I often feel that the well has run dry in terms of what people might want to hear about, I am probably wrong about this.
The conversation went something like this:
Me: I just don’t know what to say on my blog. I’m just not blog-minded. I mean, all I ever think about is writing, and who wants to hear about that?
Other person: Blank stare. You’re kidding, right? Did you just hear yourself? Haven’t you ever read someone’s posts on writing and been inspired?
And that was it—voila, the folly of my ways was revealed to me.
I think the problem is, deep down, I didn’t know if I felt qualified to talk about the way I think about writing, because I think I was convinced that the way I think about writing is weird. This isn’t uncommon, among us somewhat neurotic and self-conscious writing bunch, to feel that we are anomalies among our contemporaries. Which gave me the courage to really examine my own thinking.
The way I think about writing is heavily influenced by the way I think about drawing. I have seen by now that this “way” of thinking about drawing has both served and not served me. Namely, for most of my life I have had trouble articulating exactly why I felt something should be drawn a certain way. I felt the picture deep down, on a gut level, but I couldn’t articulate it. I have found that this is a seductive, popular way to think about art: that it’s gifted by the muses, a matter of lightning striking, or not there at all. But that’s just not true.
Years ago, a friend who had gone to art school pointed out that I needed to learn to articulate exactly why I did and didn’t like certain pieces of art, and to articulate how I think about my own. This had never occurred to me before. I saw that I’d been wrongly assuming I needed to preserve the mystique of my own intuition, going so far as to keep my exact reasons for the way I draw a picture even from myself. I think I actually believed that if I think too much about a picture, it will go down the tubes as I’m creating it.
And there is some truth to that, at least for me—there is definitely something about letting the subconscious take over, to reacting from the gut, to having a dialog with a picture as it’s developing that sometimes feels very far away, as if you’re watching someone else create the picture. And, honestly, this “zone” can be so magical and otherworldly that it’s addictive. It soothes the nervous system, balances the mind.
But there’s definitely a need, I see now, to balance this with critical thinking. To understand exactly why something in a picture is happening; to be able to come from the zone and, rather than feeling like you are at the whim of the muses, to apply your cold hard critical mind to a piece of art and take it apart, bit by bit. Thankfully, this does not wreck that nebulous, intuitive space from which pictures are born, as I feared it would; it just gives it some backbone.
And so because I am so used to the mental states required to draw, I realized that at one point I approached writing the same way. Until I learned that writing and drawing are very different beasts. Not so very long ago, I plunged forth into writing as though into a sort of 3-D picture of the world I’d created, with very little understanding of the intensely critical thinking involved in creating character, structure, plot, cohesive narrative, all that. In short, I approached it like I approached pictures: that if I wandered around in it long enough, an intuitive flash would strike me and all else would come clear. The bones of the plot would drop from the sky and place themselves neatly before me. The main character’s story arc would rise from the sea, fully formed, and embed itself in the soil, a ready-made psychological profile of the MC.
No, sir. Some people may create structure on the fly, but not I. If left to wander around in a world I have built, I will wander forever, sniffing the roses. I will forget what the heck I started out to do in the first place. I need a track, well-paved and clear, to follow; so that all the little enticements along the way are just that, and I can return to the path any time I like.
I think it comes down to trusting your critical mind. For me, still, my critical mind comes into play much more with writing than with drawing; and I think this is because drawing has been a cathartic, intuitive activity for me nearly my whole life.
And yes, I felt self-conscious about admitting that I have only learned to truly trust and employ the full range of my own critical writing mind in the last few years—and much of it in the last year. And, more every day. I somehow believed that people who are not also artists and therefore inclined to live in some diaphanous goo in their own heads were born with brilliant critical writing minds, an innate sense of structure, or at the very least the understanding that the critical mind is, well, critical to writing a book. But this is baloney, I see now. Every writer has different struggles, different strengths and weaknesses and areas of learning. It does no good to compare yourself. Other writers, I imagine, would give anything to be able to step off that path guilt-free and sniff some darn roses.
So that is a relief. I now feel freer to post about writing from the slightly ghetto-style, duct-taped, homemade, school-of-hard-knocks, but deeply sincere place it has been for me. Perhaps it will be useful to others.