Creativity is our birthright. We live in a culture that is invested in our believing otherwise. I frequently hear folks talk of talent as though it were a finite commodity that one either possessed or did not, as opposed to an “inner intelligence” that could be fostered through hard work and persistence.
Writing is not an intellectual exercise, though if you read book reviews, you may be convinced otherwise. I had a “friend” once who read the first draft of my manuscript and told me that it didn’t read like a novel. When I asked this person if I should give it to my agent, I was told, “I’d hold off.” There was no constructive criticism, no concrete or objective ideas on how to improve the work, just a vague, somewhat shaming suggestion that although I had managed to write a 256 page relatively coherent story with a beginning, middle, and end that I had somehow failed to create what was generally considered a book. Imagine my despair! Fortunately I did send the book out into the world, and much to my happy surprise it was well-received. I often think that the writing is the easy part, while being willing to stand our ground and proclaim our truth is what requires bravery.
This is especially true for first-time writers. Who the hell am I to think that I can do this thing? Isn’t it next to impossible to get a book published? Yes and no. I think it helps when one’s focus shifts from “How do I get published?” to “How can I make this story live?” It’s then that we begin to move in the direction of creating stories that are worthy of a reading public.
It is only in retrospect that I realize my friend was the gatekeeper for me. We are going to be tested, and the test, I believe, over and over again, is “How deeply am I willing to trust myself?”
When Oprah asked Cormac McCarthy if he was thrilled at how large his readership had grown, he seemed puzzled. “I write for my friends,” he said. It’s human nature to want accolades, but what if we made our creative curiosity just a little bit more important than our career ambitions? When we do this, we are on our way to writing stories that people will want to read.
How do you make the story more important than the result?