Are there rules to being a good writer? Or a great artist? Probably. But, how can we ever find out if what we produce is worthwhile, unless we actually make a move. I could sit here for eternity ruminating about what to write, or instead of that I could actually write. I’m always too much in the heads of the audience, instead of my own mode of creativity.
The biggest obstacle in my opinion that is standing in the way of a writer or even artists in general are their own image of who they want to be. If they feel like they need to figure it out first, then they’ll never get to creating. As Austin Kleon puts it in his book Steal Like an Artist:
"If I’d waited to know who I was or what I was about before I started 'being creative,' well, I’d still be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it’s in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are."
So instead of “figuring myself out”, I’ll let the words do that for me. Another side to this is that I will not stand in my own way, that is to say, I will let my brain come to my rescue. (At least that’s the ideal.) Letting those subconscious reservoirs bubble up to the surface and work in my favour. And I think this is an area which becomes ambiguous and lies at the root of why geniuses will never be able to explain how they did what they did.
Sure, they can put the tools in your hands and show how to use them, but they can’t explain how they saw the steps that led to the finished piece. The thing that makes a genius a genius is that the person does something we can’t understand. In other words, they surprise us. And surprises is essentially the domain in which every great artist operates.
The amazing variety of creative activities do not stop simply at writing, painting or producing music. For example, cooking is a great art. Making clothes is an art form. Even the act of talking to people online is creative in my opinion. And I think that creativity is a force which is inherent to all human beings. Only, most of us are too busy going from point A to point B, so that we never take the time to figure out what form our creativity could possibly take.
Because it is exactly the kind of society in which we live, which makes sure that we’re always busy. So most of the time we never get the chance to really explore our creative side. But that would require something radically different from our usual status quo. Of going into ourselves and simply watching as it all happens. This would give us an interval or a breather to figure out what we really wanted to do.
And most people don’t seem to know what they want. They have hazy ideas about it, wealth, love, success, meaningful living and so on. But if they actually stopped for little while and let things take their course, they might discover themselves with newfound energy.
I often wonder about this lack of motivation which in itself seems to be the driving force of the 21st century. Just look at all the people “not doing anything”. Are they the ones to be blamed for all the trouble in the world–because they are simply watching as things go to shit? Or is it the people who just has to do something to fix things?
I think it’s the unrecognized balance of the two classes of people working together. But I also argue that the ones that aren’t doing anything, that is, contributing to the economy or the local communities in a productive way, are the people who are actually sometimes contributing the most.
Let’s take as an example this person who is a paranoid schizophrenic. He’s lived a life of anxiety, panic attacks, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. And he’s had to quit school and work altogether and is now retired. Now, on the surface it might seem as if they’re a very unproductive member of the society. But on the side from all that miserable existence, he’s found ways in which to contribute creatively. He writes, he paints, he makes music. From a “prickly”, hard-boiled and honest worker’s perspective, this might seem like a “waste of time”.
But actually, this artist has found more subtle means to influence people. Or maybe subtle is not quite the right word because nothing makes an impact on people like images, words and sounds. Perhaps, cunning is more suitable.
So I would say to the businessman: “Look, you contribute to society by selling a product. I do that too, only, I care less about the numbers involved and I’m in the business of influencing minds, not people’s wallets. I couldn’t care less whether I make money–I love what I do. If I get paid for it, all the better. But that’s not the end goal for me. It is to inspire, not to keep capitalism afloat.” Now the next thing, is about writing specifically.
If writing is an art, then it also has to be perfected. I’ve always had a knack for writing, but it didn’t really take off until 2017, when I started a personal blog. I noticed very quickly that I had a good sense of how to tell a story, even having never studied writing. All it takes for a good story are three elements. A beginning, a middle, and an ending. There is obviously more to it than that, but it’s always those three basic elements.
There are more subtle things that make up good story, and what I call “the art of leading”. You weave patterns of words, that are always leading you somewhere. Whether it is a twist or something else. But the important thing is that is going somewhere.
If it isn’t, it’s not a good story. And the better writers find a way to manipulate the direction of the story with the characters, setting, and plot. There needs to be an action, something that simultaneosly prepares the next thing, while it happens.
The very first blog post that I ever wrote, was about our technological advancement taken to its extreme. Where we were so in the systems we had developed, that we had forgotten our identity. The real lesson in it was that no matter how far out we get, there is something which makes sure that there is always a way out.
So, every story should have a way out. Well, most stories. If you want an ultimate tragedy, then you don’t give one obviously. But most of the time, you do need that ray of hope, no matter how small.
What I just did in the previous paragraph, was one of the most subtlest things in story telling that I can think of. That is, taking a seemingly random thing, and weaving it into the story in almost non-detectable way. If you can pull that off with anything, you’re a great writer. This might be coming off as stroking my own ego, but can’t be helped. If you want to get better at it, try mashing two seemingly far apart things together.
I also go over my story a lot of times, even after writing a single paragraph. It’s a way to see if something sticks out like a sore thumb. Editing is important. Revision is important. Although, I am guilty of not editing my blog posts at all, and the reason is that I regard it a sort of value in itself, if the material is “untouched and genuine”. When it hasn’t been overanalysed. But a real book, is something that has to be edited. Otherwise it would be a sorry production. If you edit your own book, it’s much harder to see all the finitudes that are off with it.
Stories can also be about learning something. You don’t have to use story telling only in non-academic or technical writing. If you’re smart enough, you can write a book about Eastern architecture and make it a story. By telling a story, I don’t mean necessarily that it needs a plot in the same way that a traditional story does. I mean that you can lead within the text like it was a story. This is basically how I interact with people in instant messaging apps. I apply it to even one paragraph replies. It’s like it seems to be in my blood.
Writing is not only about telling a story, but it can contain a deeper message, tucked in between the lines. They say that a writer should keep their religious or philosophical stances off of the subject matter, but the truth is that the more clever writers find a way to incorporate those things in their stories. And I have done the same.
Even though it doesn’t show flat out, there is something hidden, that I try to draw attention to. If you think something is in your opinion important enough to incorporate into your writing, don’t shove it down people’s throats if the writing is not specifically about that thing. They will not swallow it.
Another one of the more subtle things in writing, is about the art of enticing. If you know what words are capable of, you can use them to hook people in whatever it is that you want to say. This is something that is more difficult to illustrate. But basically, all words have an inherent function to hypnotise their reader. How exactly that works is a mystery to me still.
But I have a vague idea, and it has to do with the way our conscious attention works. A word is something that is very focused, it keeps your attention locked on it, and forces you to move on to the next word, because we are taught the rules of how a language works. Basically, to understand something is to be able to explain it, in words. And that has such a tremendous value to us subconsciously, that we can’t help but getting hooked on words.
So writing, and story telling, is all about getting the reader’s attention, and keeping that attention on the text. And the more intelligently you use the words, the more hooked the reader is. When a story is “boring”, that literally means that the writer has not been able to keep the attention on the text. And a “bad” story, goes further than that, in that it has inconsistencies or just mistakes. When a something is a “good” story, it means it has fulfilled the intelligence of the words, and all the other elements that a story takes.
To me, writing is all about dancing with words. If you don’t enjoy writing, you’re doing it wrong. Of course, there are times when it feels more like hard work than pure play. But if the entire time you are under a pressure, being forced towards a goal, then it has become a drag, and not a dance.
There’s a saying that if you can’t simplify what you want to say like it was meant for a 5 year old, you don’t understand what you want to say. I don’t know if this is necessarily true, but it has some merit. If I can’t explain in words, about words, then what good are words? So this has been attempt to do just that.
The value of a word is not so much what it is trying to say, but what it is referring to. And what I’m referring to with all this text, is your inner story teller. If you want to tell a story, but don’t know where to begin, ask yourself this: What would you like to read? What kind of a story would satisfy your own idea of great writing?
Also, I think it’s a good idea to simply waste your time at least once in a while. Because more good ideas come about when we’re least expecting them, than when we are forcing them. You need to take a break from thinking occasionally. For the simple reason of preservation of the intellect.
If you think all the time, then all you have to think about are thoughts. And you never experience the world around you, which Alfred Korzybski referred to as the “unspeakable” world. So you’ll dry up. It’s like talking to yourself all the time and nobody else–you’ll never know what other people have to say.
Therefore, to create is to allow yourself to not only consciously decide what to put on the paper, it is to get into the depths of your mind and unlock whatever is waiting for you there. And the only way to do that is to quiet yourself and take a break from the constant chatter that goes in your head.
Now I know that some people may have difficulties in doing this. But this doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t or can’t write or paint. Everyone has their own style of creating. But the only way to tap into that style is to take an interval from the usual busyness of the everyday life.
And so here we get back to the original problem–the problem of who we are as artists. You’ll never find out by sitting around and picturing yourself as an idealized figure. You have to act, and to make things requires a clear mind, or a relatively one at least. No great master ever created their magnum opus by worrying about the audience. They just did it. If they had worried about it, it would’ve turned out to be sheer garbage. Because people want what’s new. If you create by expectations, you’ll never surprise anyone.
The greatest lesson in creativity, for my thinking, is that no matter what the medium for it is, if you don’t love what you’re doing, it will never be a product worthy of inspiration. And inspiration seldom comes out of hatred. That doesn’t mean to say that hate as a feeling does not produce creative outcomes. Hell, I once drew a picture while being utterly in a state of rage.
It is only saying that if we leave out a whole domain of experience which to draw from, the subconscious, then we might never experience true inspiration. And to be inspired means ultimately to be connected with your own inner self.