“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.”