Why bother?


Out of the blue this morning I received the following text message from a friend of mine:

It’s tough when you’re a writer and you write but no one (really) reads what you write.  It’s depressing.

I was a little taken aback, since this was not the continuation of some conversation we had been having (at least not recently, anyway). So I figured either the text was meant for someone else and mistakenly sent to me, or some event had happened that had precipitated this gloomy thought. I asked my friend exactly that, and he replied:

I have ideas all the time for stories and essays but I don’t write them because no one will read them.

And I thought to myself: Oh, Mary. Give me a break. What a total cop out. I don’t write for the fawning accolades of critics or the adulation of fans. Those things are completely separate from the process of writing. I write to explore ideas of all types, be they epic, philosophical, political, culinary, global, funny, dreamy, and yes sometimes boring, mundane and trivial. I write because I want to write. And I don’t write when I don’t want to write. It is not my job, it is my art. It is beyond the reach of commerce, and in that sense all the more pure for it. While I love readership and feedback, especially if there is a back and forth about ideas and opinions, they are not the primary reason I write. And I think the same must be true for any creative endeavor we engage in. We have to do it because we are compelled in some way to do it. It is the creative activity itself that is worthwhile. It is the doing, not the response to the doing. That is a separate thing entirely, and although it can be gratifying or frustrating it should never be the motivating force.

I kind of feel like my friend (and many others I have heard similar sentiments from) are experiencing a tension between what they feel they SHOULD want, and what they actually want. And then the excuse for not engaging in some activity (such as writing) becomes about the fear of “failure” (whatever that means) or the lack of response. I want to say “Hey, it is ok not to write, or paint, or whatever.” Just as it is ok to do those things if you feel compelled to. The subjectivity and capriciousness of what achieves mass appeal is beyond art and only feeds the ego. People who are only trying to figure out what this mass appeal is and cater to it are making a specific product for a specific need, not making art. Some people are lucky enough I suppose to have their aesthetic interests and sensibility line up with the masses, resulting in the win-win for them of doing creative work that happens to be popular. But so what? Art and taste are subjective. If you need to create, create. What comes of it is irrelevant to that endeavor. The creative act is truly its own reward.

When is the last time you handwrote?


The NY Times recently ran a piece bemoaning the demise of cursive handwriting (“The Case for Cursive“), which quickly became one of their most heavily emailed articles. Presumably there is a lot of worry over the subject by creaky handwriting instructors and nervous parents and grandparents across the land, as this is a clear sign of moral decay. And then there are the articles rebutting the demise, assuring us that cursive will always exist in one form or another, and that the reason teaching it is so important is so that we can read each other’s handwriting. I say hogwash. Cursive is going away and I can’t see a strong argument for keeping it. In fact, handwriting in general is pretty much going away if you ask me. When is the last time you actually wrote anything other than your signature? When I tried to visualize the last time I wrote something down, I was unable to do so. My notoriously bad memory notwithstanding, it is because I never write by hand anymore. Really. Letters and other correspondance to friends or clients? Email or instant message or text. Paying bills by check? Scheduled through online banking. Paying individuals? Same thing, I use online banking to send checks to anyone I need to, or paypal. Leaving a note for someone with a map or directions? Easier to send them the link to a google map route. Short stories or blogging? Via keyboard at my computer, ‘natch. Shopping list? IPhone app. Taking notes? Typed or better yet spoken and transcribed by my phone or computer. In every scenario you can think of, there is no longer a need for me to write anything by hand. I will admit that not everyone has access to the full digital life complement yet, but make no mistake it is coming. Pardon the pun, but the handwriting is on the wall. And I will admit that my handwriting has suffered in legibility because of it, but why should I care? In every way typed text is more legible and with the variety of fonts at my disposal, more pleasing to the eye. The purpose of words on a screen or page is to communicate, after all. All the handwringing about what we are losing boils down to simple nostalgia and fear of change.

Amusing Muse


Regular readers of this blog have no doubt noticed that I haven’t been extremely verbose recently. In fact, outside of my twitter one liners, I haven’t really been in much of a creative writing mood. This could be for any number of reasons, things haven’t exactly been a picnic in my life recently. (Although as my grandmother used to say, “Nothing is so bad it that it couldn’t get a little worse.”) Still, it got me thinking about the fickle nature of (my, anyway) creativity. I don’t have a huge degree of control over when it comes and goes, and I have noticed that it is uneven in the many areas of my life. For example, I have had a fairly creative streak recently with regard to a couple of web projects, even as my creative writing output has dwindled. The quality of my twitter one liners is always mixed, sometimes brilliant, sometimes awful (such is the nature of status updates and off-the-cuff announcements. But I never have and never will tweet about going to the toilet, so you may take some small comfort in that). So often, I pull up a blank blog post and stare at the screen with nothing to say, and I ask myself if I really need to. Why write if I am not in the mood to do so? I know that the mere act of forcing myself to write with regularity improves the quality and kind of my output, even if individual posts are nothing special. On the other hand, who is this blog written for? It is not like I make any money off of it. I do it to communicate about ideas that matter to me. I do it to publicly work out certain ideas and get some feedback. Why force myself to put something out there if I really just don’t feel like it? All kinds of things affect our creativity, and there are all kinds of things we can do to stimulate it. Fascination is everywhere around us if we only look. But sometimes it is hard to see. So take this one as me forcing myself to get back up on a horse I haven’t been riding very much recently.