Just Shut-up and Write

"Damn it Zor, I don't think humans are supposed to bend like that."

“The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.”  ~T.S. Eliot   

To the sarcastic turd who just opened their mouth to object before allowing me the privilege to elaborate: Yes, I know, you bathed in awesome this morning and you can’t imagine what Eliot is talking about…but let’s give it a shot anyway huh?  

I asked a question on facebook recently, “As an author (or artist), if you had to choose one ability to be stripped of, what would it be? By ability I mean strength or virtue, something that relates to your current skill set as a writer.”  

I received the typical answers at first; “I can’t give anything up, I’d give up perfectionism, I’d give up my fears, etc.” After a few responses, Ien (who graciously blogs here for me from time to time) answered with a real, honest to goodness, answer. I’m not downing anyone who commented, please understand that, but it brings a few things to mind.  

The point of the question was to push you. Really push you. I knew what answers I would receive before I asked. It wasn’t supposed to be easy. It was supposed to force you to consider your safeguards—your actual, technical skill set as an author and what tools you’ve come to cling to as lifelines. Why? Because by weeding through what you can do without, you begin to discover just how broad your skill set is. When you spend an inordinate amount of time, unconsciously leaning on a crutch, you forget how much you can do without it. If you naturally write with sarcasm in your voice and therefore take it for granted as your “style” and “strength” you may never find out how emotionally cutting your serious tone could be, if you only pulled it from the tool box and used it. If you rely on witty dialog, as one commenter said, then you may never know the power you could wield with an awkward conversation, a long unsure pause, or even silence.  

 In other words, I wasn’t interested in “that shirt” that I loaned you last year…I wanted to see what all you pulled from your closet in your attempt to find it. You getting my point yet?  

You may not be ready to give that question the gravity that it deserves and that’s okay. File it away, and if you ever find yourself feeling blocked, uninspired or simply in a rut, pull it out, dust it off and dig in with abandon. See what you can shear away. Strip naked and you’ll find more than mere flesh and bone; you’ll find the muscle, sinew, joints and most vitally, blood of your writing abilities. You’ll eventually put your clothes back on, and thereby your tried and true skills…but they’ll feel different. You’ll feel the rush of that blood in your views, instead of merely knowing it’s there. You’ll know the twists and turns of your plots in ways you couldn’t have imagined because you’ll know the joints that allow such unwieldy movement. You’ll see character threads interacting in ways you’d only hoped they would because you’ve inspected the sinew that holds the work as a whole together. You’ll run farther, faster and last longer, once you know where your muscles are, how they work with your bones and how to take care of it all. Ask any athlete and you’ll find them to be a wealth of physiological information and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the human body and the creative body are so similarly constructed. As authors it’s our right to explore our “bodies” the same way…our tool boxes.  

So, don’t over think this. Don’t spend time arguing with me on what you simply can’t. do. without. Just…shut up and write…  

P.S. Are you wondering why I chose that quote? Because some of you are relying on those crutches for no other reason outside of your psychological need to identify with it. “I can’t give up vague inferences. I just can’t…it’s…who I am as an author.”

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9 responses

  1. The question you posed, by the way, and my attempts to do without the this-is-who-I-am, this-is-how-I-write approach have invigorated my writing the way a wildfire clears a forest floor and feeds new growth.

  2. Sorry mine wasn’t one of the “good” answers. I guess the fact that I’m not willing to choose means I’m not a “true artist”. I always felt the way that you describe above without contemplating giving anything up. My sacrifice has often been my favourite characters for the sake of an interesting plotline. Perhaps that’s not enough, by your definition.

  3. It is an interesting lesson, one you can learn different things with as you explore what you can and can’t give up. And looking at a new story with this in mind would be an interesting experience, one that I think I might attempt, after all my current works are up to date, which will probably be in another ten years. Nice post, I enjoy the thought and encouragement. Now, shut up and write. 😉

  4. The turd who bathed in awesome….damn that made my morning. I haven’t even had coffee yet.

    You’ve got me thinking Breanne. I rely on emotion and conveying emotion through dialogue. So, on purpose, when I crafted the prologue for my next WIP, I used very little dialogue, it’s all really from inside the head of the main character. Most peeps liked it in my critique group, some wanted more of the tissue grabbing intensity they enjoyed in my first MS. But I was glad I forced myself to do something out of my comfort level.

    While I am crafting a certain voice and I do want my novels (it’s a trilogy) to have some similarities, I do not want them to be carbon copies where the characters could be interchangeable, if that makes sense.

    So happy you posted this. It was reaffirming for me that I was making the right choice. BTW, my weekly Blog Post is about personal AWESOMENESS. Too funny.

    http://careyabbott1.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/got-awesome/

  5. Right on, Sister.

    Here’s something I used to say when I was a bit more juvenile than I am now:

    Miss on you pister! You ain’t so mucking fuch. Go in your own jackyard and back-off. See if I sive a ghit, bon of a sitch.

    Kinda hard to reply to that!

    Be Well,

    Larry Mike

  6. I believe Eliot was speaking to the universal concept of progress through truth. That is, instead of writing from the heart, write from how reality actually is, rather than what we wish it to be through the color of our egos. It’s a zen like approach we’ve heard many times: to understand the universe at large, we must set aside (sacrifice) self in order to remove our prejudices.

    At least that’s always been my interpretation.

    Self-sacrifice to me is a positive, not negative, endeavor. There is a fine line between self-examination and self-loathing. One leads to simplicity and change. The other leads to blockage and withdraw.

  7. Chantal, you know better than that. I just sent you a private message to address your comment further. For the record, I’ll never say anything about whether anyone is or isn’t a true anything…I’m not qualified to make such a statement and wouldn’t even attempt it.

  8. Anthony, yes! I agree with you whole heartedly and that’s a beautiful way of putting it. Love that last line…I may just have to quote you on it! That’s precisely the point of my post…self-examination…and I appreciate you noting the difference between the two. It was never about truly giving anything up, but being about introspective.

  9. I totally missed this FB post! And I’m so disappointed that I did! Now that my brain is pumping, I’m really trying to think about it. Nice question.

    I do feel that writing is something that I am…but what do I need to lack in order to make myself better…? I’ve never thought about this before. Thank you so much for pointing this out to me 🙂 I’ll let you know when I’ve come up with a good answer. Right now, I’m off to Tokyo…but I might know when I get back. Vacations do that, you know.

    Really nice post and very true. I’m a certified group fitness instructor that specializes in Pilates (one of my passions), and a certified lifestyle and weight management consultant, and reckoning the body and creative spirit into one is a great example of what we as writers really need to do in order to expand our horizons. The body is highly complex, a beautiful weaving of sinews, blood, bone, muscle, nervous tissues…you name it, it’s probably there.

    Great job keeping us on our toes.

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