My colleague Mr. Beast wrote a really positive article on his writing blog, When No One Cares About Your Writing. It’s about finding the motivation to continue writing when discouraged – or indeed making any kind of art. The article is useful because it shows that a person without self-esteem or hope can still find motivation. Worth a read…
Great American Satan: And worth a discussion. Welcome back to my blog, Beast. Long time no see. How’s the celebrity life been treating you?
The Beast from Seattle: Pretty wild, but I’m hanging in there.
GAS: Nice, nice. Save some cocaines for me. Oh, before we get into this, I understand you wanted to say a little about your writing blog and the motivation behind it.
BfS: I’d always planned to do something like this, but never got around to it until recently. With the quarantine, I thought people might appreciate some encouragement and advice about writing. Also saves me a bit of time so I don’t have to re-explain my suggestions when I talk to people. Just beforehand I’d been going through some writing e-courses I got in a bundle and was incredibly disappointed with the content. None of it was about actual writing, just marketing and getting published.
GAS: I recall you complaining about that at length. Writing that positions itself as being about how to write, in practice being about nothing but commerce. Capitalisms, babey.
BfS: Guess that’s what sells the classes. My hope was to make posts that are actually helpful and to the point.
GAS: Fangtastic. Meanwhile, let’s talk about your newest joint. The article proceeds from the assumption that no one cares about us – the readers. That’s brilliant I think because for a lot of people positivity is just not believable.
A lot of “encouraging” articles and media proceed from the idea that the only possible motive is hope, and try to instill it. I remember assemblies about self esteem and bullying from back when I was in high school that just felt like bullshit. Not believable, therefore not useful.
BfS: Also, I don’t know people’s lives; there are plenty of people out there who might literally have no one who cares about their writing. Nothing more dejecting than looking up advice for a real problem that insists it’s not real.
GAS: Exactly! False positivity is a real problem. I think Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-sided has something to do with that. Never got around to reading it. But the point – of fucking course a lot of us have no one who cares about us. Literally not a soul. A lot of us are not attractive or interesting or smart or cool. Where’s something the abject of the world can believe in?
BfS: Well, it sounds corny to say ‘believe in yourself,’ but even if you have abysmal self esteem, you could maybe still figure out how to entertain yourself & take care of yourself as much as you’re able to.
GAS: Do you mind if I spoil your article? Take its main points and discuss each.
BfS: Heck, why not.
GAS: The article goes through reasons to create in the face of universal disinterest. Point One: A sense of accomplishment. This is a bit of an old canard, but in the context of this article it is freshened up. Most people think “sense of accomplishment” and they assume some kind of reward will come with that. What if the accomplishment is all you have to show for yourself?
BfS: I compared it to making an elaborate recreation of architecture in Minecraft or making a difficult risotto. Why do that at all? Because there can be personal satisfaction in doing a feat of skill, or just doing something productive when you weren’t being forced to. Even if the only bragging rights you get are with yourself, it can still feel good.
GAS: Still, for some people pride is unachievable. This point is a little weaker on that count, I feel. Am I wrong?
BfS: Well, there’s still sort of a bar to clear in getting anything done at all. I don’t know if I have the chops to encourage someone who can barely take a shower to also get their writing done. Still, it’s an activity you can do on your own, without much physical requirements or help from other people.
GAS: Not to shoot it down. I’m sure it would work for a lot of people. But I do believe you wrote your points in order of ascending strength. Point two: Make your art to build your skill. Not a bad one. If you’re going to do something, getting better at it is surely worthwhile. Again, what if someone finds it hard to be proud of a skill? Well, it still has use. But then, what if they are – for whatever reason – incapable of getting better? You’ve seen artists who stagnate for decades, yes?
BfS: I included that reason because a lot of people still haven’t absorbed the ‘all first drafts are shit’ mantra, and get very dejected by not having beautiful prose straight out of the gate. I think just about everyone will get better with practice unless they’re being hindered by ‘if it’s not perfect why bother,’ and not working on polishing rough drafts.
Sometime I might write about the fallacy of the notion of talent, especially in regards to writing. A lot of people give up on writing because they feel like they’re not talented, and it must be much easier for more practiced writers. I suppose if someone is incapable of feeling like they’re improving, or incapable of feeling good about improving, they’d have to move on to my next point. 😛
GAS: I do feel like your last point was the strongest – the one that stands up the best, can be used as encouragement for a creator with zero self esteem for real. The point is that you can create art that is perfect for yourself, and thus entertain yourself in the future.
Now you and I have both done this – read our own writing, with some distance of time, and been greatly amused by it. But I was thinking of another example just now. What about the artist whose crude work is miles from getting to where they’ll actually like it?
To that guy I say this: Your fave artists can make better art than you, maybe they always will, but they’ll never be able to draw your favorite fetish perfectly. You can create the clown-paint alpaca with a bouquet of horse cocks in place of its head that you want to see in the world.
BfS: Haha, I suppose that’s one way to put it! Besides just hyper-specific content, your own writing can have your preferred amount of tension, your sense of humor. The trickiest part to realizing this goal of entertaining yourself, is breaking free from the desire to write to please others, and to write the ‘correct’ way. As long as you know what you were trying to say, it doesn’t matter if it’s chock-full of typos and grammar mistakes.
GAS: This last point I was interested in seeing expanded. What happens when we aim only to entertain ourselves? Even a professional writer with an audience of millions might have secret writing – something only for them. I’m probably still thinking about fetishes here, but bear with me.
BfS: Heh, surely.
GAS: I was thinking of that seriously. If you change the goal of art to a wholly private and self-motivated endeavor – and I admit this is very off topic – how does that change the rules? Henry Darger of course comes immediately to mind.
BfS: I don’t think it needs to change the rules that much. (Almost) no one is so aberrant that there isn’t someone out there who would enjoy their weird stuff. I know I’d sure like to read Darger’s books if they put it out there. I think the biggest change is that one could take a lot of shortcuts because they would understand what they meant more easily than an outsider would.
GAS: Outsider is the word. What shortcuts would you take, understanding your own internal meaning? I think the reason shorthand had to be formalized for secretarial work is that any given shorthand we create on the fly could be forgotten by us at a future time.
BfS: Oh certainly. Anyone who’s done programming/scripting knows how quickly inadequate comments can leave you scratching your head as to what the hell you were thinking. I think for myself, I’d still probably hew to typical fiction standards, but I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I might still be willing to drop plotlines when I grew bored of them and pick them up wherever seemed interesting. I believe Darger did some ‘reboots’ of his plotlines, and big digressions about anthropomorphized tornados. Gotta admit though, I would still be interested to read that.
GAS: Darger, for people who don’t know, was a private guy with a menial job who was discovered posthumously to have written a truly massive and very peculiar illustrated novel. Sadly the people who gained conservatorship of it have never released the bulk of the text, so we don’t get to see just what he did – with the freedom of feeling like nobody else was ever going to read it.
BfS: It’s a shame that his work was discovered by the art world instead of a publisher.
GAS: Yep. People like Matthew Barney that wanna gatekeep art to those with deep pockets. Whatever to them. We can all be our own Henry Dargers and make fucked up art for ourselves. Last question – any chance you’d let us know what your own “The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion” would look like?
BfS: Haha, that’s a bit private, isn’t it? Well, to whatever degree I haven’t shared unfinished writing, we could consider it all my Realms of the Unreal until I do.
GAS: And if you even dropped a hint on us here, that would instantly steal it away from that special place. Well thanks for visiting the show.
BfS: No problem, thanks for having me.
GAS: Alright folks, when we get back from commercial, enjoy The Barenaked Ladies!