Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Suffering For Your Art

... really?  I mean, I don't mean to knock anyone who suffers, who is suffering, who has suffered, which right there probably covers the entire scope of mankind.  So I guess I don't mean to knock anyone.

But I've heard this saying a few times over the past year and, truth be told, it bugs me.  There are variations of this, of course.  Here are a few I've heard:

You must use your disturbing past to feed your fiction.  Okay, I know some people do this, and that's awesome.  If it works for you. I personally don't think you need a fascinatingly disturbing past to write fiction and, if you have one, do you really want to dwell on it for the course of a book?  Are readers going to be that interested in it? My take on it is: take themes from your childhood that stuck with you and work 'em.  But a haunted past isn't enough to hold up a story - most of us have one, or a variation of one and, it's hard to face, but most people (except your paid therapist) won't care all that much.

Generally, themes from your past will emerge in your stories, just because they've made themselves at home and are all cozy and snuggly in your psyche.  One of my recurring themes is home, or so I've come to realize.  The search for home, the desire to return home, the quest for friends and family who represent home.  I moved a lot as a child and I believe went to six grade schools and two high schools, so it's not hard to understand why it's a big theme for me.  And, in the end, family and friends are home, not a physical place.  It's too early in the morning to count how many places I lived as a child/teenager, but trust me, that's a tested theory.

I'll give up everything for my art.  I feel like I'm doing an intervention here, but don't. Seriously, don't. Like the bad boyfriend in high school you swore off everything for, art isn't worth it.   Art will give up absolutely nothing for you, because it doesn't care if it exists or doesn't. I mean, seriously, it's not alive.  Give up some things for art, sure.  You'll have to if you're serious about this.  Some friends, habits, social events might be left behind.  But don't give up everything.  Because at the end of the day, when all that's left is you and your art, you'll be left with nothing.  A published book is no comfort when celebrating your success alone at the bar.

When I get in a good writing spree, I have to admit that I drown out the world.  Emails go unanswered, phones don't exist in my reality, meals and sleeps are skipped.  But I'm not giving up anything, because I've surrounded myself with people who will support me.  And I make up any lapses in contact as best I can.  I'm usually playing social catch-up, but I figure anyone who supports writing will understand.  Anyone who doesn't will hopefully not be offended as they vanish into the woodwork.  In the meantime, I still have my team, my family, and my espresso machine (and more cats than necessary).

I would starve for my art.  Okay, kind of along the same vein as the previous one, but being a starving artist is not good for anyone, really, least of all the art.  It's not easy being creative when you're actually starving, or freezing, or wondering how you'll make next month's rent.  It's okay to have a full time job, with good pay.  As long as it doesn't drain your energy, you're gold.

I can't even apply this to me.  Not only do I not starve, I eat really well, as often as possible.  I love food, all foods, and I love cooking.  I'm getting hungry just writing this sentence, in fact.  And I work full-time. Have for more than a decade.  Will for many more years.

And the last one I'm bringing up:  I hate the process of writing, but love having written.  I'm not sure I really understand this one yet as I'm still processing it (most processes are slow right now.  I'm in final stages of book writing so less power is available to other causes, like thinking).  I think I get it, but all I keep thinking is: life is so short.  Why spend so much time doing something you dislike?  For what?  A book on a shelf?  Is it worth it?

I can't answer that.  There are times I dislike writing, sure.  Somedays are rough.  I've been frustrated and have broken down once in a while.  But overall, I'd say the experience is pleasant and fun, and worth repeating. Kind of like eating a chocolate sundae with extra sprinkles on top.

But maybe this is the same reason I don't starve for my art.  I'm not into the pain thing. Still, if you ARE a writer who hates writing, consider another form of art.  Again, life is short, so no need to make it miserable, 100,000 words at a time.

My personal take is that's it okay to have fun, it's okay to just write because you love it, because you're looking for the next plot twist, for the next ally, the next adventure, the next character breakdown.  More often than not, I look up from my writing and think "this is why I love doing this."  My heart swells with writing love, or whatever romance line you'd like to put here.  I *love* writing.  Not every day.  It's like a relationship.  Not every day is gold and it's a lot of compromise, but in the end, enough days make it worthwhile to remain with this sometimes fickle lover.

Flip side of the coin (to keep me honest): If you feed your fiction with your pain, that's cool, too.  I know authors who feed their depression into their stories and the power of their words is breathtaking.  But they're not willingly suffering for their art.  They're using writing as escapism, as a way to express their pain, as an outlet that this world just doesn't otherwise provide for them.  And I respect that immensely.

When suffering is not a choice, art can be a saviour.  But that's not suffering for art.  That's suffering despite art.  Big distinction, in my mind, and I admire anyone who suffers from constant or periodical depression.  I think that includes everyone, again.

There you go.  I don't mean to offend anyone and I admire everyone.  I think humanity's pretty cool, what can I say!