Have you noticed that a lot of the most successful people seem self-centred? A little arrogant, perhaps? Obnoxious, even. Is there something we humble, peaceful, generous, gentle arty types can learn from this..?
When I meet successful writers, they often seem to have an unshakeable belief that they are right. ‘Here’s my art,’ they say. ‘That’s what you’re getting, World, and I couldn’t care less what you think about it.’
That’s not true, of course. The artist cares deeply about what people think, and often they are, underneath it all, humble, peaceful people like the rest of us. However, they appear to have an arrogance because their art is pushed out by a passionate, blinkered drive that makes it what it is and, for that artist, the product cannot possibly be any other way. It’s not arrogance, it’s ownership. It’s taking responsibility. And that’s exactly the way it should be. For art to satisfy, it must first satisfy the vision and inspiration of the artist. The seeds of creativity that drove the artist to devote blood, sweat, tears and years must be realised with integrity for there to be any point in doing it.
If you think about it, once the artwork is available to appreciate, the artist shouldn’t really have any say in what people think. It is what it is. The wise and productive artist puts it out there – publish and be damned! – gives himself or herself a quiet hug for keeping that integrity, then moves on to the next one. ‘Fire and forget’ is my motto. If your artwork happens to resonate with a proportion of the population, great! You will make some money. If it doesn’t, you’ve satisfied your soul… and that is the only audience that matters.
Success is not measured in money. It’s measured in fulfilment. And what you should aim for, in an ideal world… is both.
So what’s the point in learning stuff about my art if I must simply satisfy my heart?
Good question. The problem with the above is that most writers are not able to bring their story to life in a way that satisfies their inspiration. Once it’s done and they read it back, it doesn’t quite deliver what they felt inside. And that is really frustrating. So they rewrite. Then re-read. And it kinda works. So they rewrite. And re-read. And rewriting is fine. Essential. Unavoidable. But it isn’t a very good ‘method’ for problem solving. Three or four rewrites and six months later, you’ve forgotten what the hell gave the thing a beating heart in the first place, and it starts to go cold and become really hard work. Until it dies on a shelf as you put it down to experience and move on to something new and exciting.
When a writer asks me to read their story and tell them what I think, I refuse. I won’t do it. I ask them what they think, because that’s what’s important. It must stay in their ownership. I get them to pitch a short version of the story. I ask them questions about the characters and motivations and, bit by bit, I try to get them excited again by connecting them back up with the original inspiration. I then talk to them about specific areas of story power and story theory that will help them understand where the core power is. That way they can find out what is bugging them, understand how that might be addressed and then stay on the spine of their inspiration. And that can be learned. Like a painter can understand the limits and potential of different paper, brushes, colours and media, and a composer can learn the limits of an instrument or an orchestra, so a writer can learn where the power of a story lies and can use that knowledge to to remain faithful to the inspiration across the long haul of writing it down.
And you mustn’t be scared to put it out there! So many of my clients are really just after reassurance. They want to rewrite forever rather than face the judgement that surely follows completion. Rejection… terrifying. Best just never finish, right…?!
If you want success (whatever success means to you) you MUST have the courage of your artistic convictions. There’s only one person who can tell your story and that is YOU. There’s only one person who can decide if your story is right or not and that is YOU. If you love it, then it’s right.
So be arrogant. Be superior. You ARE the God of your story, and you mustn’t be ashamed of that. Be the God. This is your art and you must guard its integrity because You Know Best. In fact, ONLY you know the definitive truth of your story, so it’s not arrogance, it’s standing up for what you know to be right.
Yes, learn the craft of story, because that will help you to identify the inspiration in your story and keep true to it through the long haul of writing it down. But remember this:
Nobody can give you advice on how your story should go. the moment they do, it is no longer your story.