So this week’s assignment is about stepping outside yourself. I challenge you to write a short piece in first person, describing your daughter’s first date. But it’s not you. Don’t write what you would do. Ask what the character would do. Is this modern, futuristic, Old West, 1950’s, Middle Ages?
What does the date roll up in; what impression does it make on you? What does it say about the person picking up your daughter?
If you post creative things you’ve written, do you look at the blog stats to see what gets read and what doesn’t? You understand, of course, this is not the same as ratings. If someone reads your post, they can also rate it, or comment so you can get feedback.
Are people reading your fiction posts? Do you get constructive criticism on them?
My posts about writing get a lot of views, some comments, some likes. But my actual fiction posts don’t appear to get any views at all. It’s like people watch the DVD special features, but ignore the movie.
Last year I was listening to my local NPR station, and heard an interview with Brian Doyle. He was already a well-known essayist, but was now discussing his first novel, Mink River; a swatch of life and death and talking crows set in a fictional town on the Oregon Coast. I love how it blends modern social science with rural legend, Native American humor with old Irish seriousness (and the other way around). It’s spiritual, romantic, mystical and real-life-ish.
I hope Brian writes more novels, with or without talking crows.
Maybe I’m just betraying my romantic side, but when we study art in history (at least, in my formal education), we tend to look at European art, or Asian art, or cave art. But we rarely talk about American art. That’s because there isn’t much art coming out of America. Not art for the sake of art.
We make a lot of movies, but most people (I think) agree those aren’t focused on art. We draw or design a lot of artistic things, from movie posters to advertisements for the newest iPad, but most of what we draw or design in America is for commercial purposes.
Your novel, or painting, or sculpture doesn’t get any attention unless someone can sell it, make money off of it. And I’m not saying that’s wrong. But that separates creative people into two categories; those who are marketable and those that aren’t (or those who don’t know the right people). This division has little or nothing to do with talent or creativity.
What I’m trying to do here is connect a couple of my posts. I asked why you create something, and would you do it even if you couldn’t make money at it. And I suggested there should be a Minor Leagues of Creative endeavors.
I would love to read your ideas on how creative people can get their works looked at, even if there’s no money changing hands, so that people can give input, maybe rate each other’s work, and give talent scout-types something they can grab onto. The reason most agencies don’t really want to look at new writers and such is that they are untested. Surely there’s a way to create a Craigslist or something like it for creative people to show their work, share it, get input, and then get some professional eyes on it.
If your future self from the distant future came to you today and said that the way things turn out, you never get to be a successful writer, chef, painter, sculptor, singer, composer, philosopher, saint; would you still keep at it?
Does it matter if no one remembers you 100 years from now?
I’m just curious what drives people.
When I was a kid I was sure I could be a great professional baseball player. I could pitch, hit, run. But by 15 I realized I wasn’t good enough to get to the next level, so I stopped. But there have to be more successful professional athletes than professional novelists. Why do we persist against lottery-esque odds?
I’d like to know what motivates you to create something, even though there’s a great chance no one but your close friends will ever know what you did.
Sometimes I listen to songs like U2’s Sunday, Bloody Sunday, or John Lennon’s Imagine, and I think protest songs are a waste of time. People don’t listen to music and expect it to change the world.
People don’t read novels and hope they will change the world, either.
And yet, I find that things I put in my stories start happening in real life. In my first novel (your first novel will probably suck, like mine did), I decided the main characters should wind up divorced. Then it happened to me. Maybe I just saw that coming on some level. In my second novel, the main character goes to work for a huge conglomerate called the AUC. Years later I started working for a huge company with similar initials.
So in my third novel, the one I am working on now, the main character is trying to compose a song for his wife (he is a composer, after all), and in the story he gets about 15 seconds into the song and gets stuck. I decided to write that song, not just describe it, and guess how far the real-life song is . . . 15 seconds. At least I fixed the timing of it yesterday.
So this holds up the process of writing the novel, because my brain wants to solve this problem before going on to the next one. It irritates me to skip a dilemma and come back to it later. Another choice is to go into Editorial mode and add the narrative voice in the first 15 chapters or so (I don’t number them). But that is kind of like admitting defeat, which also irritates me.
So why don’t I just write a novel about a couple who wins the lottery and lives happily ever after? Or someone who reads a blog and suddenly understands all the mysteries of the universe?
Max is one of the few authors I read who is still alive (may he live many more decades, cos he’s still fairly young). I thought it would be helpful to post the words of an established writer, but I don’t re-post or re-blog, so here’s the link to his own words. He wrote Jennifer Government (which is one of my favorite recent novels), Company, Syrup and Machine Man.
I like to read everything an author has written and see how they grew or got cynical (like Kurt Vonnegut). But I haven’t done that with Max. Since I read Jennifer Government, I have been looking for other modern writers I might like. I’ll post about others later. This is Max’s spotlight. And I plan to read Company soon.
It didn’t hurt that part of Jennifer Government was set in my home town of Portland, and that some scenes happened at Nike, literally a stone’s throw from where I work. Don’t worry, I didn’t hit anyone. And it was a small stone.
But what I really liked about Barry’s book was that it was a lot like mine (except that he sold lots of copies and important people in the publishing business know his name).