What makes a good writer, a good artist in general? Originality? Being relatable? Meeting a societal standard? I recently came across an article that posed a number of questions that all “Creatives” should ask themselves. While I agree with the idea that it is important to understand what it is you’re doing and why, I disagreed with a few of the points, mainly “Who Are My People?” and “Where Am I Doing It?” While I agree with the article in that there are certainly a number of questions that every artist (whether they be a painter, a writer, a musician, etc.) should ask themselves, I think that these factors can present a slippery slope as they pertain to dependency and leaning too hard on these crutches.
Certainly, surrounding yourself with like-minded writers can be beneficial. Writing and critique groups, writing retreats, and various workshops can be instrumental in finding motivation and inspiration to keep your creative juices flowing. I’m not saying that having a solid circle of friends and colleagues that support you and your writing is not important, it is. Having these individuals to discuss your writing with, to get constructive feedback, and to play ideas off one another with is fantastic! However, when it gets to the point that you are feeding off of their influence, when you develop an unhealthy dependency on your mentor, when you find yourself working to please others and you write to continue to gain praise and attention versus writing for yourself, you are running the risk of killing your originality and it defeats your initial reason for writing in the first place. You must maintain a sense of objectivity when working with others and focus on not crossing the fine line of shaping your work around your own ideas and thoughts versus letting it be influenced by external motivators.
The same concept applies to setting and location. There are certainly times that I find myself wanting to get out of the writing nook I have established for myself and want to escape to a local, cozy coffee shop, or sneak off to one of my favorite lakeside retreats I have discovered to write for an afternoon. We all have bouts of writer’s block and need that change in scenery to reignite and refresh the senses. But, if you find yourself being inspired and compelled to write in only these “inspirational” locations, that is a red flag that needs some attention. If you are being true to yourself, being true to your voice, your message, and your craft, you should be able to write anywhere and shouldn’t have to use any particular location as a crutch.
It is vitally important to maintain a balance between any and all external motivational factors; we need to look inside ourselves for the most truthful inspiration and motivation. At the end of the day, you need to rely on yourself and not on any mentor, colleague, group, location, or setting to do it for you. Don’t get caught up with the intoxicating feeling of getting praise via Instagram, getting comments via WordPress, or get 100 likes on a photo or piece of poetry you posted. There is no value in writing to please and attain praise, there is no worth in melding into a place or meshing with fellow writers to the extent that your craft suffers and your originality tanks.
Be original. Be unique. Don’t lose your voice. Inspirational settings and supportive, like-minded colleagues are important, but we must make certain that we don’t lose sight of what really matters to us. Contrary to what the article suggested, finding the “right” people and the “right” place is contradictory in developing your unique voice. If you find that you are losing your objectivity with regards to your craft, are becoming dependent on any person or group, location or setting, and find yourself at a creative loss if those factors are eliminated, it may be time to reassess the “why” as it relates to what you’re doing, and determine if continuing on this path is right for you.
Playing off of this, is the myth of the struggling artist. I know a number of writers who are fixated with the idyllic fantasy that in order to be a “good” writer, you have to be 100% dedicated to your craft. Having a day job is for those who aren’t really serious about their writing, and such career-worthy jobs can hinder rather than help the creative mind.
Well, as much as I enjoy Kerouac, as much as I savor the nights in which I find myself lost in my novel, working my way through a good bottle of red wine, I find that the lifestyle that so many writers feel they “need” to partake in is a complete illusion. Stay tuned for “The Myth of the Struggling Artist – Part II” as I put to bed the fantasy that so many writers find themselves sucked into.