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?