In a writing class last semester, my professor mentioned how it seemed impossible to type 1,000 words when staring straight into the unforgiving face of a blank blinking word document — but, somehow, when we’re composing an email, we can write five times that without even pausing to gaze forlornly out the window.
Yesterday, I watched a video where a writer who also draws proposed that people who do creative work need to stop viewing their art the same way they view their instagram account. Phone in hand, it would be easy to imagine that my friends live their lives in a gossamer dreamland where it is always golden hour and light leaks occur seemingly at random!
But I know that’s not true. I know this because I, too, have spent several minutes meticulously arranging my coffee, notebook, and laptop into a photo-ready configuration that makes it virtually impossible to get any work done. I know that’s not what life looks like, because my own life is messy and the light is bright and unflattering and there are styrofoam to-go cups everywhere.
Social media gives us the illusion of control. We get to choose the bits of ourselves we share and the unfiltered, unfinished parts that we don’t. The speaker suggested that we embrace those parts. That might mean opting to post the picture of your perfect blue-eyed toddler in the throes of a tantrum so fierce that you have to shoot the photo from behind the couch where you’ve taken shelter. For an artist, the idea of a “shadow gallery” means ignoring the impulse to only share the work you consider good, polished or complete. That’s because art is a process, not a product. As a writer who also draws, I know that if you wait to make ‘good art’ before you share it, you will probably die there, with that pen in your hand and the taste of bitter regret on your tongue, surrounded by all those styrofoam cups you keep forgetting to throw away.
The imperative then becomes, not, “Make good art” but “Make art! Any art! For God’s sake, just make something!” And that’s a freeing realization for a writer who also draws who has also spent a tremendous amount of time staring at the awful blinking cursor of a blank word document.
The moments of flow state, hopelessly lost the warm hum of creating something, are worth typing the first word of a story that you anticipate will be so life-alteringly terrible that you would prefer to burn with it on a funeral pyre than ever have it seen by human eyes. Once, after being unceremoniously dumped my freshman year of college, I scribbled a furious journal entry to that effect. It has since been not only seen, but published by the same company that produced the Norton Anthology of World Literature from which I stole many of my submission’s most searing and pithy phrases.
So, in a triumphant act of messiness, I want to share parts of my process here with you. I’ll start it by admitting to you that I am, in fact, writing this post in an email that I have addressed to a close friend. Although I won’t actually send it to her, she a very comforting presence to have looming me as I type, but also one who is I know is comfortable pointing out to me when I have used too many prepositional phrases in a row.
Another way is through the scans I just posted on my website of my highly-personal, densely-packed planner.
It is one of the best examples I have of how writing and art are inextricably linked to one another in my creative process: because it functions as a calendar and ongoing To Do list, it will never be a piece of finished work. Thanks to that built-in safety measure, it is an unedited look into how I learn, research, and record — a visual map of how my ideas take shape.
I don’t know what I’m trying to make, exactly. I just know that the only way to find out it to keep making more things.
“This isn’t magic; it’s math. Show your work.”