Reasons for Not Writing

I’m not ready yet! I should

  1. Play solitaire until I win.
  2. Check the news (Have you ever noticed how, unlike what happens in that great Kurosawa film Rashomon , the more points of view you get on a topical subject, the more you feel you really don’t know anything?)
  3. Have more coffee, maybe with something sweet, so I can get that sugar rush and blurt out any old thing. (Even if the blurt fades and leaves you in a low mood)
  4. Go to the gym or go for a run so I can get more ideas and inspirations. (So I can be  too tired to write).
  5. Check e-mail (and see who has rejected my submissions, ignored my e-mails or used one of those cheeky automatic replies that is not a reply as much as it is another way to tell someone that they are not worth your time).
  6. Consult the I-Ching (Book of Changes). This ancient Chinese fortune telling system that I encountered in college involves a random series of actions that generate a pattern. You then read commentary on the pattern. The psychoanalyst Carl Jung especially enjoyed the I-Ching because it confirmed for him the interaction of theoretical archetypes that can act as metaphors for human conditions and possibly reveal hidden truths about situations and personalities. Like astrology, Tarot cards, palmistry and tasseography (tea leaf reading), the efficacy depends on the superstitious belief that all events are connected, that faraway incidents can influence local outcomes and—specific to the I-Ching—natural forces, visual images, family structures and royal hierarchies are equivalent and direct metaphors of human interactions. (This is fun until you notice that belief systems that encourage these ideals are very popular in tyrannical regimes because they reinforce rigid social order and repress dissent).

Counter reason: No one is ever “ready,” and one can argue that those who believe they are could be less flexible and adaptable than those who just jump in or “get out of the way” and let the creative impulse come through.

I still don’t know if any of this is good. I should show it to someone who is in the business–

Counter reason: The only thing they can tell you with any reliability and accuracy is what they think you’re trying to do and how they might do it if they were you. They’re not you. If they were, they would be doing EXACTLY what you’re doing.

But what if nobody likes this? Or, even if they do, they reject it becaise the publishing business has changed. The things considered necessary for publication have changed. Publishers no longer want a good story (one can argue that they never did). They want a story that can be sold as a souvenir of an encounter by someone who is already popular on the Internet. I am not popular on the Internet.

Counter Reason: There is another kind of success that has little to do with popularity. It’s based on kindness, generosity and a willingness to do “good.” Yes, good intentions may lead you astray, but it’s rather obvious that the writing that is meaningful, enjoyable and worth reading, is worth bringing into the world.

As a journalist, I’ve written about many popular people and I’ve seen what these people must do (or feel they must do, or resist doing what they feel they must do) to maintain that popularity. About the best that can be said about celebrity maintenance is that it is its own skill with highly situational values (what works for one audience does not always work for another). The worst is that you can get lost in it   and spend so much time and money on it that you forget who you are (this is a common theme of Hollywood success biopics), become a parody of what made you successful, or so ignore your gifts and talents that your performance (or whatever art you provide) loses its value.

As a critic I’ve learned that popularity is not easy for anyone to control. Even if the work is uniformly excellent, the artist’s image can change, sometimes without the artist doing anything different. Fashion also changes: different eras pick different artists to mirror their values, and the media just as eagerly tears down those who, not long ago, were so righteously built up. Celebrity may seem as a judgement of value, but it’s really about consumption. Fame eats people, places and things. At best, it changes them. At worst, it destroys them.

As an artist, I understand that nothing is guaranteed. You really have no way of knowing, much less being certain, how your work will be received. There is a joyous part of making art when you stop worrying about this and just let it happen. Reaching that joyous moment is not only possible, but likely, with practice. Practice isn’t about repetition. It’s about finding a different way, every time, to what matters about your art.

Finally, when popularity becomes the hierarchy of success, those at the top benefit at the expense of just about everyone else.

But–!

  1. It’s a beautiful day. I could walk the dog, run an errand, start cooking something that requires me to watch a pot.
  2. I like listening to music but my favorite tunes are tangled in a mess of music files. What if I clean up my music files, extract my favorite tunes, and listen to them for a while, hoping that inspiration takes hold?
  3. I want to find out something on the Internet but I need to research to make sure I’m doing it properly. Of course, researching anything on the Internet can take an hour or more and…now it’s time for lunch!

Final Counter Thought:

Everyone feels anxious before beginning. See it. Feel it. See past it and let go.

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