Saturday 28 August 2010

Killing the golden goose

So many things damage artists. Apart from the knocks that we - like everybody else - get in life, there are some specific knocks that we somehow have to deal with. How to do it, though, isn't covered by the booklet with the delivery of "Artistic Talent". In fact, there's no booklet at all. We get this enormous thing delivered, and barely know how to deal with it. Maybe but a table cloth over the box and a fruit bowl on top and ignore it?

Apart from the usual issues - balancing "life" and "real life", there''s the other stuff. Piracy is one of them. Just today I learnt that Paul Richmond, the brain/hand behind the covers for "Clean Slate" and "First Blood" is being bootlegged by some asshole in China, who claims the copyright for the paintings. Read the full story here. What stuff like that does to a writer or painter, I guess few people can imagine. Maybe if somebody broke into your house and sold your clothes to random strangers out of your front door - and no police to call, no efficient help.

That's what writers feel like who get pirated. Some people get so hurt by this that they simply don't open the door to strangers anymore. They stop publishing and keep stuff to themselves and their friends. Pirates/bootlegger have quite literally killed the goose that lays golden eggs.

Another story is rather more personal. There are writers out there - and usually the best of them - that cannot deal with "publicity". They cannot deal with the need to run around on blogs and get on the stage and talk about themselves. Entertain in any other way than to send stuff to a publisher and then retreat, somehow reaching deep inside and digging up that pulsing heart that is the beginning of every story.

Forcing these people on the stage is like forcing a 9 month pregnant woman to dance on the stage, with a theoretical 5 billion people watching. For eternity. Because nothing that's posted on the Internet ever goes away. Dance bitch. Because you want to sell those books, don't you? You feel uncomfortable? Well, that's too damn bad, we're sure there are others that will just kill their dogs to be allowed to dance.

It's those expectations - some spoken, some unspoken - that kill the story. Make the author aware of what they are doing - and suddenly their legs cross, they stumble. Above all, they stop loving what they are doing. And it freezes the story to death before it had any chance to live.

The audience, the expectation, the publisher, one's own terribly high expectations - they can kill stories by a thousand cuts. To write, writers need to skin part of their own souls, and then write with the blood, through clenched teeth. We do it because we must, and getting watched makes it all awkward and kills the love.

There's one book that died on me like that - it took my agent to say "awesome, I'll sell that for a five-figure sum", to kill the book. I was dead flat broke, unemployed, desperate for money and recognition, and that book could have solved every problem I had.

I wrote 35 pages. They were good pages. I ended up staring at the screen and hated the idea of writing a single sentence. I threw fits over it, shouted, hated, resented every unborn character, every unwritten line of dialogue, knowing I'd have to drag myself by my teeth through a book that I never grew to love because of those expectations.

That's when I stopped wanting to be a "real author". I cut the throats of almost all my literary ambitions. I didn't write much. When I wrote again, I decided I'll only ever write fluff. (Granted, it hasn't happened... but the serious books happen against my best intentions, by following the story rather than sitting down with any notion of "I R Noah Serious Rita!"). Fuck that. My agent kept telling me how talented I am, and in a way I know all all - unless I don't, and doubt everything I do - and that's great, but the expectations are really, really tough at times.

I'm now productive and happy because I'm telling my muse "know what, I'm just playing", and he writes his little black heart out. I'm not thinking of the audience. There IS NO AUDIENCE. All those people are my friends. Elaine, Audra, Lori, Marcie, Peter... not "the audience" and not "the lions I get tossed to."

I'm a people person. I deal with people one at a time. I can't deal with groups at all. Groups in my brain are scary, hostile, faceless. I need to break that word down into who and what it's composed of. I can't do it any other way.

That's how I can dance while carrying a story. I only ever see one face in the crowd. That's the one person I'm doing it for. It can be as many as four or five, but that's it. Then again, I'm not ignoring the others. A stranger is a friend you haven't met yet - I've gradually stepped away from my learned paranoia and decided I will not live in a way that allows the bullies from the early decades in my life to decide how I deal with people for the rest of my life.

But it happens, we lose a lot of fantastic writers and great stories because something kills the spark. It might be the violation of disrespect and ignorance, it might be that pressure to "perform" and be everything - writer, promoter, VIP. I just know that sometimes, it can wipe out the best of us. These issues never crop of with the mediocre and the plain bad. They take the best.


  1. Or it might be the one person you look up to who tells you, "You have to stop writing that drivel" and kills the flame for X number of years, until someone more important says "You can do it."

    I like your approach. It makes you write with purpose and not just with the money/fame etc., in mind.

    As I've said before, you are an old soul. I like that. Old souls make the best writers!

  2. Very interesting article that definitely struck a few chords in me. No doubt but what our creativity is as delicate as spun glass and it only takes one thoughtless word to bring our world crashing down around us. Sure, we tell ourselves to toughen up, that everyone is entitled to their opinion, etc. etc. However, I'm afraid the sad fact is that if we became mentally tough and completely bulletproof our stories would have no heart.


  3. This entry struck a major chord in me, too. I think we all feel the weight expectations and rarely remember it is our own that are the heaviest. We become so weighed down with what everyone tells us we should do, we forget, or are unable, to nuture that which makes us write. To know that other voices share that same struggle lifts us up, and gives us courage to continue.

  4. Good post, Aleksandr.

    At the end of the day, despite commercial obligations, we write for ourselves.