Making Good Art – Thursday’s Children

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A weekly blog hop
where writers come together
to discuss whatever inspires them.

It’s been a tough old week – where keeping this blog ticking over is all I’ve been able to manage on the writing front. Like the title of this blog, I’ve been dreaming of other realms, but have had little time to sit down and coax them onto the page. And as Thursday rolled around I was getting nervous; the inspirational well was looking pretty dry.

They say all things come to those who wait, and I was fortunate enough to find this week’s inspiration in my inbox, hidden away in Joe Warnimont’s Write With Warnimont newsletter. Nestled in the middle of all sorts of writing goodies was this link to Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech to the 2012 graduating class of the University of the Arts (Philadelphia), with a note suggesting it might help ‘strengthen your own writing motivations’.

Well my writing motivations certainly needed a little strengthening, and it turned out Neil Gaiman is as a good a motivational speaker as he is a writer, because 20 minutes later I was feeling much better. In fact I was once again excited to be a writer.

There are many, many gems in this speech, but the one that stood out above all others was his call to ‘make good art’. And if I had to distill it down even further – make your kind of good art.

For me, I’m dead set on writing, and being the best kind of writer I can be. To that end I’m learning everything I can about the art of writing, connecting with other writers and writing as often as I can find the time.

Yet the biggest stumbling block I’ve hit has been the rules: You shouldn’t write in more than one POV, you shouldn’t use adverbs (weed out those proverbial dandelions), prologues are a no-no, and write for your market. All of these rules have merit, but at times, have also squashed – or at best dented, my creative efforts.

Spy an adverb in my writing – any adverb – and I start second guessing myself. Tear my hair out trying to figure out which one of my POV characters could tell this story solo and do it justice. Point blank refuse to lose a prologue, because right now the scene is by far the best way to start this book (book 3 for those checking over my WIP). Oh and don’t get me started on my potential readership or genres…

I know some of you will read this and have an overwhelming urge to remind me that many of the writing rules provide the structure of good writing – ignore at your own peril. And to an extent I agree – trust me I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. I guess what I liked about Gaiman’s speech was, the reminder that the most important thing is the art itself. Creating it, enjoying it, and hopefully oneday other people will like it enough to pay for it too.

Only time will tell if it’s marketable or not, but right now I’m in the phase of creating the best kind of writing art I can. The kind that makes my heart sing when I read it – the story that blows my mind first and foremost. So thank you Neil Gaiman for reminding me to trust my our own voice, get vulnerable on the page and create art that I’m truly proud of.

To join in, or to check out what’s inspiring the other Thursday’s Children click on this linky. Many thanks as always to Rhiann Wynn-Nolat and Kristina Perez for hosting!

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38 thoughts on “Making Good Art – Thursday’s Children

  1. Rules are there to be broken, Raewyn. I think the key is to write with conviction and to write something that you’re passionate about – and it’s obvious from the extracts I’ve read of your WIP that you not only love writing it but the process and art of writing itself, and that comes across beautifully.

    Self doubt and lack of creativity will always plague us as writers but I like Gaiman’s message that the important thing is the art itself – I will have to make time to listen to the whole of his speech.

    Happy writing now you’ve got your inspiration back! πŸ™‚

  2. Great post. This is totally true. After I wrote my first WIP and then actually bought a fiction editing book, I nearly lost my lunch. Over time I’ve learned to trust my gut more and rely on the opinions of people who really know me and know my work, not just someone purporting to be an expert. Not even a real expert πŸ˜‰

    1. Thanks Kristina – I’m sure it will get easier as things go on. Besides nothing worth doing ever comes easy, but I’m certainly learning to trust my own instincts. I’m sure there will be tougher edits (and lessons) to come!

  3. That was very motivational! Actually I think it’s important to understand WHY the “rule” was made. That makes it easier to determine whether breaking it will improve your work, or not. I don’t think more than one POV is a problem, and certainly can enrich the story. TENDRIL has 2 first person POVs and taking away either one would be lopping off a leg (the story’s leg, not mine, lol). On the other hand, Multiple POVs (4 or more) can get confusing for me as a reader.

    1. Thanks, it is good to understand the why although I think sometimes it’s a matter of perspective too. Some days I can work through it and be very disciplined- other times (and it’s probably the rebel in me) I really need to let loose to make the story fly.

      But I do think if you’re going to break a rule you need to have the conviction to stand by your decision.

  4. The rules are more like guidelines. So said a very smart pirate. πŸ˜‰ Don’t worry about the rules. Write what moves you, what inspires you and feeds your soul. Worry about the rest later. (Says the woman stumbling around in the Bog of First Draftiness.)

  5. Art (including literature) 101: Know the rules so that you can know when to follow and when to Break them.

    Rules are only tools, suggestions, or a framework to guide us. If they are ignored completely, we’re operating without their help, and that’s a much harder road, but if we see them as Laws that cannot be broken, then they become chains, and our road gets harder again.

    In short, only follow the rules when they feed your creativity and help you refine your work. Never let them stifle you! But you seem to have figured this out already. I’m just adding encouragement. πŸ™‚

  6. I can’t believe there are writers out there who haven’t watched Neil Gaiman’s speech lol, so inspiring! I especially like the “message in a bottle” metaphor… About rules, I guess what we have to remember is WHY they were created in the first place. It’s ok to use adverbs. It’s not ok to use adverbs to tell instead of showing. It’s ok to have a prologue. It’s not ok to delay the start of the novel with background info. Etc… Hope you can write this weekend, Raewyn!

    1. I liked it all – the reason he’s so inspiring is that he always has interesting things to say.

      And as for rules, I agree – and it’s being able to have the courage to stand by your convictions. (Although I’m always open to suggestions on how deliver in a better way).

  7. Hi Raewyn. I can really understand what you’re going through as a writer. I have all sorts of hang ups and insecurties about my work. I think one of the main ones is to do with what genre it is. I guess it’s mostly women’s fiction but sometimes I agonise over who I’m really aiming it at in terms of my style.

    So I’m definitely with you when you say that it’s important to write what you love and really believe in. At the moment I’m just writing what I want. And as for adverbs – whilst I’ve been told that using lots of them is a bad idea and I’m trying to be frugal with using them – I just remember that one of my favourite authors (Philippa Gregory who wrote ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’) uses them all the time! πŸ™‚

  8. Phew, thank God I’m not the only one. DM me on twitter if this ever happens again, and I’ll very hypocritically tell you to get back to work. (Then you can return the favor, eh?)

  9. I’ve also been stressing out about the PoV thing! I feel exactly the same – as though I can’t do the story justice from just one, especially when several characters have a great opportunity for character development within a single scene.

    Recently I’ve been re-reading one of Clive Barker’s short story anthologies and I’ve noticed that he quite often switches PoV mid-scene without, in my opinion, adding confusion or detrimenting the story. I’m not saying everyone can pull it off but it can be done! So chin up and go do the best story you can do! πŸ˜€

    1. POV is largely a matter of taste, and, of course, clarity. In other words, I agree with you. I’ve seen all kinds of POVs in stories, and sticking to just one or two, while right for some stories, certainly isn’t right for all of them! πŸ™‚

    2. Thanks I really appreciate your encouragement – we all struggle I think to tell the story the best way we can. For the moment I am embracing my (five…) POV characters and will reevaluate when the story is complete. So much of writing is about confidence!

  10. The thing about rules is if you know them, then you can thinking about them, try them and choose to reject or not.

    I had a writing teacher who was dead set against using the word ‘surprised’. The rule in my head was to never ever let the word into any story. I recently got back revision notes from my agent. Yup, she told me to add the word ‘surprise’ here and there.

    I just started writing a new 1st chapter for my WIP. It began with the MC in a car talking with a friend. Gosh, that’s a MAJOR sin at least according to a bunch of rules I’ve read lately. In this case, I thought and thought…and I did come up with a new 1st scene which is a lot better–thanks to following a rule of thumb.

    It is truly each of ours art, not someone else’s.

    1. Thanks Pat – isn’t it funny how some people’s preferences can set like concrete when it comes to our own writing. I’m always thrilled when I follow the rules and my own writing works out better, I think it’s learning not to get stuck on ‘should’ when I should be looking at ‘how’ to make the scene stronger.

      I’m so glad you found a better scene that passes the litmus test too!

  11. Haha, I agree with all of the above. The rules aren’t meant to make you second guess yourself, only to help you tighten your writing.

    I don’t agree with the multiple POV point. I feel like some stories are meant for two (or more) POVs, while others are meant for one singular journey. As long as the POVs are tight and in-character, I’m all for jumping back and forth from time to time. It can even keep things much more interesting (single POV tales tend to drag).

    Figure out your style and what will best serve your story. Then go for it.

    1. I agree, I’m trying to change my mindset and see them as a help rather than writing tazers. And as for POVs, well I’m just going to keep going and hope the whole thing hangs together well.

      Thanks so much for being so encouraging.

  12. I agree with almost everything that’s already been said, but I thought I’d share what’s been the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given about POV and deciding whose head to be in during a scene (if the story had multiple POVs) is asking yourself “Who has the most to lose?” It can mean a physical loss, but usually an emotional loss is stronger. I’ve let that be my guide, and it’s never steered me wrong.

  13. Multiple POV’s is the trick used by some BIG TIME spec. fic. authors – Anne McCaffrey comes to mind. She switches POV’s to create mini-cliif-hangers so you have to read through the next POV to find out what happened to the first POV, and while you’re doing that, she hooks you on the new POV so you have to keep reading through the first POV to get back to the second (or third, or fourth) POV! It’s extremely difficult to put her books down because, while there are clearly delineated breaks, there aren’t any true good-stopping-points.

    Maybe you should throw out those instruction manuals and just read books you actually enjoy. You’ll pick up their tricks if you pay attention, and then you’ll know what REALLY works. πŸ™‚

    1. The thing is I’ve always loved reading books with multiple POVs which is why it really bugs me when people say don’t write them. So yes – that is exactly what I’ll do!

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