Stream of Consciousness: On Creating

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*Warning: stream of consciousness post. It may or may not be organized…or even understandable.*

The act of creation is an amazing thing. Any kind of creation: woodworking, sculpting, writing, music, whatever. It takes a special kind of crazy to pour heart and soul into a creation knowing there will be people who not only reject it, but tear it down, and in doing so tear you down. Yet for any craftsman or artist, the draw is powerful. Successful or not, expressing your ideas in whatever form is addicting. Many people find that in creating a new piece, they discover more about themselves, more about the world around them. I suspect it is this discovery that draws creators to their work.

Creating something out of ideas and components at hand is hard work. Translating the ephemeral into something other people can grasp takes time and effort and lots of failure before success. It’s a wonder that anyone bothers taking the time. Facing failure after failure before finding success is daunting. It’s that barrier of failures that prevents people from trying. I’ve followed the try-and-fail cycle several times, yet the desire to create is still there.

I’ve never been interested in the physical crafts. My interest is in the aesthetic arenas, specifically writing, though I dabble in improv violin. Finding ways to evoke emotion in other people is rewarding. Making someone laugh or cry through markings on paper is an amazing feeling. I just wish I could actually make a living doing it.

More and more in the aesthetic crafts, it is not enough to be “good” or “very good”, one must be at least “excellent” before attention is paid to what you have to say. Hours and hours of effort can get even marginally talented people to “good” or “very good”. Yet it seems that one must put in not only effort, but must also possess a minimum level of talent. And that minimum seems to be increasing.

Oh well. Time to slay yet another Doubt Beast.

‘Twas a Dark and Stormy Night

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Writing, at best, is difficult. Under “inspiration” it’s easy to get lost in it, but that’s the simple part. Even for stories written under “inspiration,” the steps and tasks required (not recommended, but REQUIRED) to get it into a readable condition are daunting. Many books have been written on writing and getting published. Yet of all the people who try, very few even get a story to the manuscript stage, much less getting it published.

Why do I have “inspiration” in quotes? Because “inspiration” is merely the falling into place a series of thoughts that were already present, though unrecognized as a story. Yes, it makes writing the rough draft easier, but it is not required. The story elements were already in the writer’s mind. The writer’s most difficult creation task is to hunt down, dig out, or otherwise come up with those elements and place them in a pattern that makes sense to anyone else who reads the result.

And yet, the first draft is just that: a FIRST draft. After all that sweat and head-to-desk action, a writer must not only be willing, but should actively search out parts of his precious creation to cut, mutilate, or outright delete. It is this step that balks most would-be authors. It is difficult to first write with sufficient compassion and empathy to draw in a reader, then turn around and be ready to ruthlessly alter or trash some (or even all) of weeks of work. (Granted, the amount of time spent varies with the length of the piece in question.)

Writing is a craft: carving out a story from a mass of ideas (rough draft), cutting away large chunks to reveal the basic form (revisions), using a finer tool to further refine and define the form (editing), and polishing the final piece for viewing (proofreading). Leave out any step, and you end up with a flawed piece.

More and more, writing is becoming like the music industry. It is not enough to be “good” or “very good”. In order to become widely known, you have to be “excellent” at the very least, and “amazing” is even better if you want to compete at the A-list level. This is the value of beta reader. Beta readers provide feedback. Good beta readers provide useful feedback. Having a team of good beta readers can often lift your work one or two levels. But be warned: beta readers and friends are two separate circles. There may be overlap, but not all friends are beta reader material. Likewise, there are some really excellent beta readers who you may not get along with.

I am very fortunate in that the overlap between friends and beta readers is very tight. I have very few beta readers I am not friends with (or at least willing to be friends with). I have more friends who are not beta reader material, though due to lack of interest rather than lack of ability. Even those, in certain circumstances, I would feel comfortable asking to read through a piece for me. In many ways, the difference between a friend and a beta reader is: a friend is someone who cares about you, a beta reader is someone who cares about your writing.

Note to Self

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When recovering from a broken heart, listening to or reading Robert Heinlein’s “Time Enough for Love” is a bad idea.

Unfortunately for me, I am almost incapable of NOT finishing a book I started. *reluctantly puts the headphones back on*

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