Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What We Love

Do you know what you love, and what you want to create? Do you know how to listen to yourself, your impulses, your voice? It seems it should be as natural as breath: as you breathe out your own breath and no one else's, so too you dream out your own dreams and no one else's, right? Maybe not. There are a whole lot of filters our dreams have to get through on their way out into the world. Along the way, they can get... compromised. Tweaked, twisted like reflections in a funhouse mirror, and even kidnapped and replaced by other dreams. And I'm not just talking about dreams. Mainly, I think, I'm talking about creative voice. The shape and life your creativity takes in the world. Are you writing what you want to write? Are you drawing what you want to draw? On the surface it seems this is something that SHOULD come as naturally as breathing, but does it?

Lately I've been reading echoes in a lot of different blogs of a kind of creative self-discovery, writers and artists questioning whether their creativity is taking its natural shape. Several writers I regularly read have written about accepting that what they LOVE writing isn't fiction - which perhaps they think they SHOULD love - but personal writing. There may be some resistance, thinking this kind of writing isn't as accepted in the world, it's harder to explain to non-kindred spirits. I think of SARK's books, and how before they existed many in the publishing industry surely would not have considered them publishable. Who would buy those silly little books, I imagine them asking. Well, HA! SHE knew. She believed what was deeply important to her would be deeply important to lots of other women, and it IS. (And it sells!)

An artist whose blog I read is struggling a little in art school, with too many voices, it seems to me, telling her what kind of artist to be. So I've been thinking a lot about this: how do we discover what we love, and who we are?

There are a few things that kind of work for me, though I see they seem to be in conflict:

1.) I discover what I love by being alone with myself and being playful and experimental. By shutting out the other voices, by trying this and trying that and seeing what settles into my soul with a deep sigh of satisfaction. A dressing room approach to writer's voice & artist's style. What fits me? What fits MY thighs? What fits MY mind? Of course, different things work for different people, but for me, being around a whole crew of other creative people is only good in short little spurts, like retreats or conferences. Then I need to be alone with me. Art school had its benefits, but I know now I was right to drop out after three semesters. I do not thrive in a competitive atmosphere of coveting others' talents. If only I could draw like that... If only I'd thought up that plot... No. It makes me curl up like a little snail in the dark and feel sorry for myself. I want to be the only artist in my head! Also, the art I love making now, like my new Laini's Ladies Bohemian collection (of which the above image is one) would not have garnered me praise in art school. Art school was about edginess and coolness, about being non-commercial. Dark. Not me, not so much. That environment is supposed to encourage the emergence of personal creative voice, but in my opinion art school best encourages those whose styles fit in the current mode, and others find themselves trying to adapt themselves to what's considered cutting edge. I'm not cutting edge, and cutting edge people make me a little nervous.

2.) I pay close attention to what I love when I find it in the world. When I read a book I can't put down and can't get out of my head, I try to figure out WHY I can't put it down, WHY I can't get it out of my head. What did the writer DO to me? And how can I do that to others? (See? that conflicts with the non-coveting, being alone in my head thing, but whatever. Maybe because this is technical: how did they DO it, not: dang, I wish I'd done it.) I was about halfway through writing Blackbringer when a big fat book totally took over my life for a few days and after I finished it, I made a list of the chief elements I thought made me love it so much. Not plot points, but things like this:

- camaraderie: a group of wonderful characters gathered around the protagonist, all cool and powerful and all fiercely loyal to each other.

- romance: the drawing together of two characters who don't yet know each other, but who the reader can see are so meant for each other; the suspense of waiting for them to meet, for their relationship to unfold.

Those were already elements of Blackbringer, but making that list made me more aware of crafting them and making the most of them.

I don't think this post is shaping itself towards any profound conclusion, but I would like to know what other people think: how easy is it for you to recognize what you love doing and do it? Is it natural for you, or do you have to gouge your way to it, through barriers and external voices?

30 comments:

Kim G. said...

Great post Laini! Great questions to ask and try to discover on the journey. I think I struggle with the whole concept of "should". What should I write? What should I read? What should I be doing for work? What should I be doing for enrichment and development of my skills? I really am trying, though I might not have been able to articulate it before reading your post, to do what I WANT rather than what I should. I know that when I took my little retreat day last week where I spent the day doing what I WANTED, the result was wonderful! I really like your idea of asking WHY you like something to get closer to the point of what you want to do. Thanks for your encouraging words.

Patry Francis said...

Love the journey this post takes me on.

Makes me very eager to read Blackbringer--especially knowing how well you understand both friendship and romance.

GoGo said...

Thanks for the words. I struggle. Often. Its nice to here your interpretation of it all. Thanks for sharing your light, lady!

deirdre said...

You've asked some questions that I haven't even gotten around to wondering about myself. This new exploration with art is still taking baby steps. I never thought of myself as creative or talented. Certainly it was not encouraged in my family. Writing is something I stumbled on to because I wanted to write my - ready for this? - family history. And fiction kept coming out instead. The teacher encouraged me to continue and then invited me to join her private writing group. Respecting my voice has been a challenge. Intimidation and some forlorn sense that I'm not good enough are the main obstacles I face. When I get out of my own way and let the story tell itself there is a true joy that fills me. And you, Miss Laini, and your ladies, are gifts to my muse.

chest of drawers said...

I think the main problem a lot of artists have today is a lack of time to think about what they really love. We know we have a talent but the pressure to be successful and to earn money blocks us and has us spending time on other work - sometimes unfullfilling which pushes the inner voice away even further because it keeps asking "why are you doing this?" and that´s not something you want to hear on your way to your day job.

aithbhreac said...

I can really relate to your thoughts about art school (having had a similar experience) and applaud you for recognizing aspects of that environment which were not conducive to your creative growth. I think the theme here of asking oneself "What do I WANT to do" is a key element in discovering your true voice/calling. It is such a simple question, but yet, how often do we really take the time to pose it to ourselves? And then further, to sit quietly and listen, really listen, to what comes up.

Laini Taylor said...

Claudia, I think that's a very good point. It IS very hard to open oneself up fully to creativity with the stress and drain of uninspiring work weighing one down. Daydreaming calls for long hours without interruptions, at least for me. It's very very hard to get real creativity flowing in narrow windows of time.

melba said...

Until two years ago I assumed all artists and writers had gone to school to be artists and writers and therefore I could never be one of them...I could only look and dream longingly...

But then I just started to TRY. I moved pen on paper and brought up my paints and glue from the basement and tried.

and then I discovered blogging and my world EXPANDING...

I have heard from some creative bloggers that they don't want to seem like they are "copying"
I think it is good to be aware of where your influences come from, but we each bring our own personality into our work.

I think it is also so important to let go of the money...will this be a commercial success? I know we all have to pay the bills, but I also believe we all could live with less if we tried and then the pressure would not be as great.

One more thing...I love this new line of yours. The picture here is beautiful and very current!

kelly rae said...

loving that bohemian lady, laini. for me, perhaps because i am still fairly new at artmaking, i don't have the "shoulds" quite yet, perhaps because i broke through all of that and just started making stuff one day. i think i'm still in the naive phases, but i must say that i admire your natural leadership as an artist and writer. you're like the momma writer and artist, encouraging us all to find our way, to grow our wings. i love that about you.

Naturegirl said...

When you LOVE what you do and do what you love...it spills out from your heart and soul!! You'll know as it fills your spirit..yes you will know!I was impressed with your comment at
Paris P.re:travesties in the world..I love your mind,your way of thinking and this post! :)

Living Part Deux said...

It has taken me the past half of my life to try to undo what the first half of my life did - and I have not been completely successful. What I am talking about is the molding of my self into something that was acceptable; taking on the thinking of other people who were powerful in my life, and sublimating my own personal power to be myself. I totally lost the ability to hear myself, to define what I love. This is a validating post, one that describes the struggle and embraces the importance of pursuing ourselves above all.

Jamie said...

Great post, Laini! It's clear that your self-analysis has really shed light on what you love, and in a way that reveals opportunities to explore more. When my clients are struggling to figure out what they want to do, I always ask them to pay attention to what's catching their eye, drawing them in, making them laugh or cry. I love the layer you've added of really looking at what's behind that, what lies beneath?

I hear you on the art school edgy thing. Drama school was much the same. Congratulations on finding a way to hear and be true to your own voice! We're all blessed that you did.

paris parfait said...

I love this post and the questions you ask. To me, writing is a journey. Sometimes I never know where it's going to take me. When I woke up today, I never expected to write a poem about women in the Congo - but I did! Who knew? Sometimes something happens that inspires me and I feel compelled to get it out right that minute. Other times I wait and think about things for a long time before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Like you, I find it useful to shut other voices out in order to hear my own. I am glad you have followed your own path and are creating what you love - as evidenced by your lovely art and your beautiful, magical writing. Nobody's voice should ever be more powerful than the one inside you.

Amber said...

I love when you post things like this! Really makes me think, and gives me some insight from someone who is doing what they love for a livig. Thanks!
I think blogging has reminded me that I my writting voice is very strong when it comes to the personal writting. When I write fiction, it;s okay...But when i write from a personal place, the words flow out on their own like a river! I knew this, as the few things I have had published are peices that had a personal slant, and were meant to advocate for people, or issues. As I have been thinking lately about my direction, I believe I am meant to use that. I hadn't thought of that as making me a "real" writter, though, you know? So what you say here means something to me...

Also, I wanted to say that your words on my blog yesterday were great. I needed to read that. Because I know I can be such a hard ass, and I feel like I am sometimes too hard. And I think you are a kind spirit, so if you would feel that way, too-- Then I guess I just need to give myself a break! ;) Thanks!

Great post!
:)

Anonymous said...

I love you-- oh whoops-- that's getting a bit personal-- but seriously? love this reflection-- it resounds within so clearly

what is WITH "art" must be dark/edgy/cryptic to be "real"-- that is so much bullshit but oh how it can shut some people down--

I love how you create focus in your world so your art can emerge-- loved this whole damn post, actually

~bluepoppy

Kristy said...

Part of me believes I know what my dreams are. Part of me believes I'm still discovering them. I do know, either way, that each day I'm getting better at fulfilling them -- or finding them.

Lia said...

Thank you for your inspiring, encouraging and liberating post. I have only just begun the journey to finding my creative self, my own voice and I am learning to relax with the process. I believe we all have stories to tell but making the time to articulate them clearly is difficult - sometimes life just gets in the way. I wish things could just slow.... right.... down!

Alyssa said...

hi laini! Im sorry i havnt been writing in my blogger lately...but i just wrote a story in there now! I read this post...and it really made me think...i love art and music, but i never really thought about what i love to do myself. It inspired me!

Shesawriter said...

I know exactly what I want. It's how to go about it that's the hard problem. Plotting is the issue. The rest is gravy.

Cheryl said...

I know what I love because when I am doing it there is flow - an effortless flow where I am perfectly centered and just AM.

Mardougrrl said...

So many good questions and reflections...especially the part about coveting other people's talent. I fail at that one all the time. But perhaps reframing it as "how did they DO that?" instead of "why CAN'T I do that?" would help muchly.

I have to be honest...I am usually a little scared to really ASK myself "what do I want?" I have wanted to write fiction for so long, have so long believed that fiction is REAL writing, that challenging that feels like giving up.

I adore, adore, ADORE the Bohemian Ladies, Laini. It's funny...you say that you are not edgy enough for art school, but if I COULD draw, I would want to draw just like you.:)

liz elayne said...

thank you for this inspiration and this glimpse into what works for you (and what doesn't).
all of this speaks to me and to where i am in my own process.
thanks.

oh and you know i love those bohemian ladies. yep. love them.

megg said...

thank you for this! I think i am at the tail end of the gouging part of the process - but there is finally light at the end of the tunnel! Thank you for the glipses into your methods - it's inspiring!!

p.s. - love the new lady!!

anahata katkin said...

I LOVE THIS POST! Thank you for your thoughts. My favorite point is:
" I like being the ony artist in my head." Well put! This is profound to me. ooooo.....oooo...and the thingy about being cutting edge...all of this is super duper. I am just loving what you have to say. I often times go visiting super hip paper companies websites and think- wow those are REAL designers. And I get all mixed up and cofused about my place. Wanting to be personal and authentic visually- but then...wanting to be able to piss with the "big boys"(aka snobby trend setters). I actually think the stationery show (where we met) really threw me for a loop. Ever since that competetive and inspiring atmosphere I have been a little mixed about direction. Not in my heart- but when it I think about going back (we haven't yet) I get excited about bringing the essence of what's in our hearts to the table.
Even now with so much mixed media stuff in print and all the mags etc. i try to stay tuned in without getting saturated. I cannot read Sommerset etc (though I like it.) But i start to get too influenced by it all. I start wondering where i went. It happens really easily. Like picking up on a speach pattern of a good friend.
Oh my goodness. I could go on and on... you have me in a frenzy. I will spare all this for now and give thanks for the lovely post and insights!

anahata katkin said...

Oh ANd FREEWAY! Yes I am going to get it thanks to you!

Left-handed Trees... said...

Very important questions...raising issues I have been journaling so much about right now. For me, creation is best done alone--without the "chorus of voices". Premature feedback, even if it's positive makes me clamor for more of it. Then, I am stuck with "writing TO the audience" not "through" them or "for" them if that makes sense.

I think many creative people of all kinds are never truly satisfied with the intersection of their creation and the public. It was once, "if I have one person read my words--I'm perfect", then, "if I can publish in one local paper--I'll be happy", onto, "a national magazine would be the pinnacle"...which leads to, "I need more on my clip list or I can't consider myself a writer" and "if my book isn't published, I have failed"...Next I will experience, "if it doesn't sell x-number of copies, it was for nothing." I have to work without thinking of any of this--or I get stuck.

Thanks for sharing your ideas and letting me glimpse into some others who commented here. Very interesting post...

Brandi said...

You are just one of the most insightful artists I know. I know I say this in every post but I love reading your writing.

I wish I could help with an answer on this one but I think I might be one of the art students you are talking about so I just need to take the advice you are offering.

Oh, I love that lady too! The skirt is just to die for!

Brandi

Anna said...

Oh my! I don't even know where to begin... I need to think more about this. Off the top of my head, I can say that I usually feel like I love too many things, but I never actually do anything about it. It doesn't come naturally, and that makes me sad and frustrated. And then there's the perfectionism and the comparing my work to others... That's probably more of the issue. Hmmm...

Michelle Fry said...

It seems to me that finding what I love to write about or do is easy, but actually putting it out into the world is the difficult part.

thealphafry said...

Wow, thank you for this.. I hear you loud and clear! And this is exactly what I needed to hear...

I can totally relate about the struggles w/ the art school "mold". Everyone is always trying to be "different".... but the same. It's the experimental, edgy style that seemed to be cool. If you didn't have it, you just weren't "good". I stuck it out though, it was a struggle, had its ups and downs. But I am glad I made it. Currently though, I have been in that creative stuckness. So reading other creative blogs and emersing myself in this just might be what I'm looking for. I'm glad I stumbled upon your site.