Quote: Martha Graham on Satisfaction

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There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
-Martha Graham

A dark and stormy life

Rembrandt Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee

The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.
-Vincent Van Gogh

Sometimes, we have to go through storms. I have to remind myself that storms and upheavals are a necessary part of life.

One thing I’ve learned over this process of changing from a hermit to a published author is that you can feel as if you’re on a ship in the middle of a storm. The waves toss you up and then you plunge down into a maelstrom. Over and over again.

Not much to be done about it, apart from stocking up on Dramamine. Just something to be aware of. The alternative is going back into my hermit cave and quitting. That might be more comfortable, but I don’t think it would be nearly as interesting a life.

I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to protect myself from exactly this situation. And you can’t do it ! There’s no home safe enough, there’s no country nice enough, there’s no relationship secure enough; you’re just setting yourself up for an even bigger fall and having an incredibly boring time in the process.
French Kiss

Successful Failure

It’s a great myth that creative geniuses consistently produce great works.

They don’t. In fact, systematic analyses of the career trajectories of people labeled geniuses show that their output tends to be highly uneven, with a few good ideas mixed in with many more false starts. While consistency may be the key to expertise, the secret to creative greatness appears to be doing things differently—even when that means failing.

An article in Scientific American discusses the research that Dean Simonton has done on creative people. People who are highly creative are not inevitably more successful than anyone else. Unless they create a lot.

Simonton’s extensive analysis of geniuses found two major factors to be critical in explaining the creative process of geniuses. First, creative geniuses simultaneously immerse themselves in many diverse ideas and projects. Second, and perhaps even more important, they also have extraordinary productivity. Creators create. Again and again and again. In fact, Simonton has found that the quality of creative ideas is a positive function of quantity: The more ideas creators generate (regardless of the quality of each idea), the greater the chances they would produce an eventual masterpiece.

Copy of “Some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in whic

The Constant Companion

I eat doubting,
work doubting,
go out to a dubious cafe with skeptical friends.
-Jane Hirschfield, My Doubt

I am hacking my way through the revisions to Geoff and Lia’s story. Revisions are like housework; I would much rather be doing something else, but once I’m done I am glad I did it.

Anne Anderson05The difference, of course, is that when I’m sweeping the floor, I rarely question whether I’m doing it right.

Perhaps this is a character flaw. Maybe I’ve been sweeping wrong all this time and no one told me.

But with writing, it’s different. I am slicing and dicing the text and then splicing it back together into a semblance of a smoothly flowing narrative. And at each step along the process, doubt is right there with me, a constant companion who questions everything.

I’ve decided that doubt is part of the process as well. I might as well sit him down and make him a cup of tea if he’s going to stay around.

In Praise of Bad Writing

I’ve finally managed to drag my muse out from under the bed where she’s been hiding ever since I got Geoff and Lia’s story back from the beta reader.

Here are three facts about the feedback:

  • The beta reader did a great job. Her feedback pinpointed the areas in the story that felt weak.
  • Her feedback was balanced between good and bad elements of my writing.
  • When I read her feedback, my belief in my ability to write went away and hid for a while.

Funhouse Mirror in the City - panoramioI knew I was being foolish to overreact like that. I did it anyway. I’ve decided that this reaction is part of the process and I’ll just have to accept it. Plus, I need to recognize that this reaction has very little to do with what the beta reader actually said. I apparently have a hearing problem; criticism of my writing is going to be distorted into something monstrous.

What the beta reader actually said: You need to work on areas A, B, and C.

What I heard: You are the worst writer in the history of the planet.

Picswiss SZ-23-15Something inside my head took the perfectly fair, dispassionate, balanced advice that I was offered and turned it upside down and inside out until it was almost unrecognizable.

Maybe it’s a reverse form of egotism. If I can’t be a good writer, then I’m going to immediately rank myself at the opposite end of the spectrum and be the Worst Writer Ever.

All right. Let’s imagine that’s true. In that case, there’s room for improvement. I will aim to be the Second Worst Writer Ever. Move one step up the ladder.

I have finally got myself back to work by ignoble means. Bribery. The only way I am going to let myself start working on the Shiny New Story waiting in the wings is to finish smoothing out Sam and Neil’s story and then revising Geoff and Lia’s story.

I have a confession to make: I am the sort of person who reads other people’s diaries. But I only read them if it’s the author is dead and the diary is published. I’ve read Virginia Woolf’s diaries. She used to note down how she felt at different stages of writing a novel and then come back later and compare it to how she felt about the story later. So I’m going to note here that at this moment I think that Samantha and Neil’s story is the worst thing I’ve ever written. When I started writing it, this story was all glitter and stardust. I want to check back in six months or so and see what I think about it then.

It’s hard to finish a story when you think it’s the worst thing you’ve ever done. I don’t want to submit a horrible story to my editor. But considering how my feelings about a story are going to change, I don’t think I’m the best judge of whether my stories are any good or not.

It’s not my job to reject this story. That’s the editor’s job, and she’s very good at it. I’m going to write it as best I can and then let her do her job. My job is to write it and then go on.

Bad writing can lead to good writing.

I really do believe that it’s only through writing The Worst Book Ever that I am going to get better. If I keep writing–and finishing–novels, and if I make it a point to analyze where I’ve gone wrong with each story, then I will get better at this.

You are the only you… There are better writers than me, there are smarter writers than me, there are people who can plot better, but nobody can write a Neil Gaiman story like I can.

-Neil Gaiman