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Posts from the ‘Literature’ Category

Let that creativity out, missus!!

CreativityMy title for this post was to be Aspiring Human, but I’ve just found “Let that creativity out, missus!!” as a comment, from a very dear friend*, on yesterday’s Blipfoto journal entry which seems just as apt and has the added benefit of being slightly catchier.

Both titles get to the heart of how I feel about the intertwining of life and creativity.
Let me explain…

Rewind to 2009 when I rediscovered the achingly wonderful way writing made me feel, signed up for Open University courses, and joined Twitter in my quest to find ways to immerse myself in “writeriness”. I followed as many people as I could who had the words “writer” or “author” in their Twitter bios or usernames. I looked for writing hashtags, writing quotes and mantras, writing retweets, writing blogs. I wanted to be in Writer World, I wanted to talk Writer, be Writer, think Writer, live Writer. I wanted to share writing chat, get a feel for life as a writer and completely overturn the “something’s missing from my life” non-writery existence I had lived previously.

Now, that’s all well and good and has probably worked for many, but what I found was the language in Writer World made assumptions about a way to be a writer. I felt as if until one was published or successful in some other conventional way, one had to call oneself “Aspiring Writer”, and – importantly – always be striving for something. There is always a feeling of needing to make it, to get somewhere – be that winning competitions, awards, publication, or employment of some kind. However good anything I wrote might be, however Writery I felt – even if I wrote for hours every day and some days did very little else, I still felt the pressure to conform to a load of assumptions. I could post things on my blog, I could take part in things, I could have tens – sometimes hundreds – of people reading what I had written, but I would always be “up-and-coming” or “aspiring”. Not even the tag “amateur writer” would be applied to me. Always part way there until someone slapped a success sticker on me.

In the same way that society now expects singers and musicians to strive for fame, recording contracts and TV appearances to become “performers” of what they do to endorse it in some way, writer seems to have come to mean

• Book(s)
• Novel(s).
• Publication.
• Recognition.
• Income.
• Employment.

(I’ve just remembered the person who inspired the title of this blogpost doesn’t like bullet points!**)

Being a writer didn’t mean writing a novel in the past. Writers wrote – simple as that. And the novel is a relatively new concept that some writers probably shouldn’t even be striving to achieve. There was once no such thing as a novel. That’s just one area. There are so many other ways to be a writer.

And what happened to the definition of being “successful” at something simply meaning “to do it well”?
What happened to talents being enjoyed for what they are? Where is the stress-free enjoyment of merely creating?

Write
What I found for myself by immersing myself in writer language was that I gradually began to realise that it was not the talk around writing and writers and publication that I am interested in: it is what people write about that interests me most. I observe society and people, I am affected by what I witness, and I see myself as someone who organises concepts and thoughts into words, and a person who makes up stories, and not as someone who is striving for something. It’s the human part of people that I like best and that doesn’t come from only talking to other writers about writing. I now have a new, smaller Twitter account where I follow people because I like what they say about the world. My favourite people are often good human beings first and foremost. To be successful and/or talented is never enough for me. It shouldn’t be enough for anyone in my opinion.

Of course there are writers who write to get published, who write to win competitions, who are good at these things, enjoy these things and succeed at these things – I know many of them and admire not only their writing but I admire them as people. Some I consider good friends, so I am not writing this to take that away from them or to belittle their struggles or hard work. I also know people who write to earn money to put food on the table and so of course that is incredibly important and worthwhile, not to mention jolly successful if they manage to achieve that even in some small way.
No. I am simply trying to remind myself and anyone who reads this that the raw creativity contained in the whole of the art world – in paintings, drawings, sculptures, poems, musical compositions and performances, stories, scribblings on the backs of envelopes, blogposts, theories, low-budget films and whole host of other areas of creativity are what make a person an artist, a writer, a creative person, or whatever. Assuming that “making it” or being successful in any field requires some kind of conventional quantifying or recognition can be crippling to the person who puts themselves in that mindset, not to mention insulting to those who do not. Why should we be striving to fit our art into someone else’s narrow definition of what is good or successful anyway?

It is the actual process of being creative that is so important to me. The choosing and arranging of words or music to form a picture or an emotion: the releasing of musical notes from my voice, or from my flute, or through my fingertips; the selecting and joining together of words to experiment with ways of pinning down imaginative thoughts. I see this too in the sketches our daughter draws for no purpose on earth other than she feels the need to do it. I take photographs because I like to see a scene framed or the way the light takes a different picture from the picture my eyes took. Those things – all those things are worth something. There’s no need to put a price on everything, a deal on everything, seek employment or other monetary recognition in something merely because we enjoy it. I don’t play music or sing in order to perform for others, I don’t take photos in order to put them in an exhibition, and I’ve realised I don’t have to write with a novel in mind.

People are employed as musicians, as writers, as artists, sure. But that’s only one way. It’s not the way to call yourself any of those things or to sanction what you do. Besides, I think we should strive to be the best, caring, thoughtful human being we can first and foremost and that will automatically put a stamp of authority on what we do. After all it is the human condition that makes art accessible and emotive.

Of course there are creative plans – projects with an end goal: things with a purpose, which must be finished. But that’s not the definition of creativity, or creative success.
If we become appreciated for what we do, that’s not when we made it. We made it when we were being creative.

Do you want to know what’s annoyed the crap out of me, whilst writing this blog post? It’s that an image search for “creativity” I did to find a picture to go with what I’m writing, threw up so many pictures of business people in suits – as if to say creativity is about business ideas. And you’d be amazed how frequently the words “leader”, “innovation”, “teamwork”, “target” and “success” came up. What?! Why?!

AGH!

It’s not that I don’t think art should have a purpose. I just think its purpose has become confused and a lot of people are scared away from writing because they assume it has to go somewhere, but it doesn’t have to go anywhere. It’s incredibly sad that many people are put off creative arts because they don’t see how they could be successful at them. Expectation can be disabling – I should know, but writing is a process all in itself, and a damned fine one too – just like all the other arts.

Our youngest child making experimental noises on the piano - just because it's good fun

Our youngest child making experimental noises on the piano – just because it’s good fun


*Thank you, Sarah
**Sorry, Sarah



Not competing is healthy too

As a writer, as a mother, as a member of society, as a musician, as an ex-school girl, as a small business person (I’m not particularly small though!) and as an observer of the media I’ve seen the effects of and discussions around competitiveness throughout my life and something is bugging me. It’s this statement:

“Competing is healthy.”

Well I’m here to say, just a cotton-picking minute! That statement is incomplete!
There are all sorts of words and opinions excluded from that.

This is more like it:

“It is believed by many that competing is healthy but it is by no means necessary have competition in order to be happy, fit, or successful in what one does. Although many enjoy competition, many others do not and, unhappily, find it is forced upon them. Competition is about winners and losers. There are many areas of life and many situations where winners and losers are not appropriate and competition can actually be damaging or destroy one’s enjoyment of an activity. Whilst some people may feel they need to compete, their views should not be imposed upon those who don’t and can cope perfectly well – if not better – without competing at anything.”
(Those are the words I’ve come up with just now. I will probably think of one hundred more throughout the day)

Competing is not for me. It doesn’t make me feel healthy at all. I don’t want to stop other people competing but I wish I could stop it being enforced on those who don’t enjoy it and don’t benefit from it. I also wish I could dispel the myths about competition because I think many of them ARE myths – especially when people say that competition is THE way to create team spirit and communal sense of achievement. It is not THE way, it is A way. There are many things that can be created, built, achieved and enjoyed (including physical activity) together that create community and bonding without winners and losers. In fact I’ve been more physically active whilst deliberately avoiding the Olympics and it has involved absolutely no competition whatsoever.

I don’t enter writing competitions, for instance. I am aware of writing competitions and had a period of about 2 months of my life where I attempted to enter about 3 but I found that I wrote badly and lost my natural flow when thinking about being judged. I write for the sheer love of it, for the almost physical need to just do it, to create, to share, to make something. I don’t want or need to win anything. I have also been involved in reading writing that is being judged and can see how damaging it can be, how subjective it is and how not only does good writing not always win but the winners are not always my favourite. I worry that people think they need to win things in order to feel a sense of fulfilment in what they do. It’s not for everybody but I think people are swept up into tides of common thinking and don’t always stop to think what suits them.

As a mother I see how awards and grades and comparing oneself with others all the time creates neediness. Children find they feel a need to always be better than others and when they can’t be they can be unhealthily disappointed, or even quite unpleasant. These outcomes could be avoided if children were just encouraged to enjoy what they do. I’m not saying, ‘No competitive sport.’ Those that want it can go get it rather than everyone being forced into it and feeling they have to opt out like loser. When I was a school pupil I felt the constant comparing almost unbearable and not a true measure of ability. Top grades does not mean most intelligent yet those who don’t find themselves at the top of the class feel less worthy. I think we are teaching the wrong sets of values.

It upsets me incredibly that we have an almost pack-like mentality in that we have to arrange ourselves into some sort of order like dogs. The angriest, the fastest, the greediest, the bossiest – the most competitive of us all is considered the best. But it’s simply not true that he is. The cave man who runs the fastest, pushes other cavemen out of the way, grabs the meat and gets to eat it all himself is the pushiest but he’s not the best and he has deprived others. It’s an attitude I see in business and instead of being applauded it should be frowned upon as Neanderthal.

Recently the obsession with winning has exploded because of the Olympics. Games with winners and losers as entertainment seems to work. It’s fun (as I have observed! I don’t enjoy it at all though). But whole lives centered around winning and losing?

I don’t think so.

Please stop thinking competition is good for everyone or a necessary part of civilised society. Because it simply is not true.

It isn’t.

No it just isn’t.

No. Shut up.

I Need to Promote a Book… Don’t Go!

Right.
(Clears throat)
I need to write a blog post about a book. I’m not sure what I’m going to write yet (at the moment I haven’t even thought up a title for this post) but here goes:
(Draws breath)
I have to promote a book.
I have no idea what I’m doing.
That’s right. You can laugh if you want.

Actually… No. That’s not true. I have plenty of ideas about how to promote a book. I have seen lots of ways of promoting books over the last few years and I’m not sure if I want to put myself or my friends or family or anyone I know on the Internet through that. I’m terrible at this kind of thing. And I’ve seen how embarrassed other writers get when they have to promote themselves.

Have to promote themselves…

You see no one’s career is at stake here. No one will profit from this book – other than Lulu and Amazon. Oh and Royal Mail and any other delivery companies used in transporting the books hither and thither. Oh and Fotolia where I bought the cover photo. Oh and maybe any independent bookshops that choose to stock it.

Erm. So why do I need to promote it?

Well I need to promote it because 40 people wrote short stories for it for free, 15 people read stories for it for free, I gave up my time for weeks for free, it would be stupid to make a book and have no one read it. I need to promote it because I owe it to the people who donated stories for it. I need to promote it because Amazon sales rankings are addictive and watching them change last night was the best ever fun. Okay, not that, but I do really want people to read it.

And why should people read it?

Well people should read it because not only is this an interesting book if you’re into flash-fiction, but it’s interesting if you want an introduction to flash fiction; there are some very good and very enjoyable tiny stories in there that will make you laugh, giggle, cry, nod your head, gasp, wince. People should be made aware that there are some exceedingly talented writers living in the west country – FOUR of whom are in North Devon – which is where I am! (Oh, no that four includes me… that’s self-promotion) THREE of whom are in North Devon – which is where I am! It’s a format that you don’t have to commit to. It can be flicked through and stories picked at random. It can be read story-by story over a period of sittings (standings, lyings, waiting-in-queue-ings, lunch-breakings, sitting on the loo-ings, etc..). People should read it because it was put together for National Flash Fiction Day and we’d like more people to know about flash fiction – to read it, to write it, to appreciate it. Some people don’t understand flash fiction and slag it off – can you believe it?!

So what’s my angle? My title? The crux of this blog post?
“Read this book and show the flash slaggers how wrong they are”?

No. It’s this:
“I think you should buy this book”.
(I wish it could be cheaper but it’s not. It’s an expensive business – self-publishing a book.)
I’d like you to read it. I think short stories and flash fiction are wonderful and I want more people to enjoy the freedom and blasty funness of them (do please Google “blasty funness” and tell me if I’ve just been unintentionally incredibly crude). I want you to appreciate the talent and hard work of people scribbling away at home for little or no fame and little or no profit but purely for the love of writing and giving an experience to their readers.

I do feel for those ordinary hard-up writers self-promoting because they have to. It’s not easy.

Oh yeah. Almost forgot the link – ha ha!

Kissing Frankenstein & Other Stories by Flash Fiction South West – Now available at Amazon

Don’t buy it to make me happy.
Buy it to make you happy.

I know! – I should work in advertising, yeah?!

No?

Try another line?

Please find it in your pockets to spend £7.50 so that 40 writers will feel loved, appreciated, and – most importantly of all – read.

You’re still laughing at me right?

Oh – alright: Tania Hershman wrote one of the stories! Now will you buy it?!

A Timely Quote

I’m sharing a quote I’ve just scraped from one of my OU books. It’s an amusing paradox because although it’s in my course book, I can’t follow its advice. In a way I have to do the opposite and write about a lot of literary criticism (some of which I’m not making sense of and I’m not sure I want to).

It’s from a letter written by Philip K. Dick in 1981 where he responds to a
critical article (about one of his own novels) he has been sent and confesses that he finds it unreadable.

He writes:

‘Criticism, to be valuable, must make sense and must relate in some way to that which it analyses … [E]verything bad about academic literary criticism is found in this article; it is dull, it is pointless, and its only purpose – if indeed it has a purpose – is to exhibit the education of its author, who, I feel, really should read fewer books and, instead, play frisbie in a park somewhere with some little kids (and I might take that advice myself, in view of my recent writings).

Perhaps we are all spending too much time thinking and reading and writing when we should be out in the sun.’

Dick, 1981

(From The Popular and the Canonical, an A300 coursebook)

Unfortunately,  I now have to spend too much time reading and thinking and writing.

Wot OU Studying Learns You

Why is everyone telling us to keep calm and carry on so much recently? Have we decided that the war years were better than life today? From what I’ve heard it was vile for everyone and we’d do well to avoid history repeating itself.
As for keeping calm and carrying on, well I’ve recently discovered that stressing out a bit, questioning why you’re doing something, stopping for a while and deciding what your reasons for carrying on are is a much better option.
Carrying on is not always necessary.

I flapped, lost the point, and gave up my literature module (see previous post: Flooded Engine ) I stopped for 2 weeks, had a think and started again. It was a mad rush getting back into it but far better than trying to keep calm when what I actually needed was a break.

I had to read masses of course materials and write an assignment in 10 days, then read loads more course materials in order to have another assignment written by this Friday (which I haven’t started yet… ahem…)

The latest assignment question reminds us to develop own our argument, and avoid recycling course materials and quotations.

This the point at which you know you have “done proper learning” and are ready to think for yourself. For course after course after course it has been, regurgitate, regurgitate, regurgitate the things that other people tell you until finally you get to a stage in your learning process where the stabilisers are taken off and you can ‘GO’ – pedal, balance and whoosh all by yourself with the techniques you have been learning for years.

I’d love to continue my learning and carry on expressing my own arguments based on what I’ve read. The next natural progression academically would be an MA but I can’t afford the time, the money or the stress.
What I can do, though, is apply that motto above to the rest of my life.

Make. Perceive. Communicate.

Auden in 1946 for LIFE Magazine

Auden in 1946 for LIFE Magazine

I read this just now in A Twentieth Century Reader: Texts and Debates. It was written by Auden in 1938 for the introduction to The Oxford Book of Light Verse:

‘Behind the work of any creative artist there are three principal wishes:
the wish to make something;
the wish to perceive something, either in the external world of sense or the internal world of feeling;
and the wish to communicate these perceptions to others.’

I liked it very much because it is exactly how I feel. He went on to say:

‘Those who have no interest in or talent for making something, i.e. no skill in a particular artistic medium, do not become artists; they dine out, they gossip at street corners, they hold forth in cafés. Those who have no interest in communication do not become artists either, they become mystics or madmen.’

So we’re all mad, or gossipy diners, or artists. I wonder if I could fit everyone I know into just those three categories!
😉

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