Friday, June 22, 2007

I am not God's megaphone

Richard Steinberg at Storytellers Unlimited has post on what it takes to be an artist that is either incredibly poetic or ridiculously self-indulgent, depending on how you tilt your head.

The part I like is this:

Don’t try to be the next John Grisham or Judy Blume; Audrey Schulman or Caleb Carr. Don’t. When you sit down to work decide what it is you want to write about. Not the genre, not the setting, not the style or length. Certainly not what you think people want to read. Because if you’re anything like me, every time you figure out where it’s at, it’s usually someplace else.

I couldn't have said that better. You should only write what you have to write. Just yesterday Jennifer was pointing at an ad for an idiotic chick-lit title ("The Manny"), and saying "I could just write one of those stupid books and sell it and we'd never have to work again." But of course she really couldn't. That's because, as John Gardner said "To write trash, you have to have a trashy mind," and Jen just doesn't. You can't fake it.

The post goes downhill when Steinberg descends into Harlan Ellison-ish hyperbole, such as "I am God's Megaphone." I might call myself God's megaphone in my private fantasies, but I wouldn't have the chutzpah to say it in public.

Aside from the self-indulgence, the problem with the "God's megaphone" business is that it leaves the professionalism out of writing. I don't think that's what Steinberg meant, but people will misinterpret what he's saying to mean that if a person is "real artist" beauty just pours out of them automatically like sweat.

But even for a genius, I believe it's 99% perspiration like everything else. Whatever other kind of crap James Joyce, Charlie Parker, Jackson Pollock and other tortured geniuses were going through, they were absolute professionals when it came to their craft. When it was time to focus on that, they got their business done.

Or as Tom Waits put it:

You got to get behind the mule
Every morning and plow
You got to get behind the mule, boy
Every morning and plow.

Don't waste your time peering into your soul, or asking God for inspiration. Get behind the mule. Be consistent. When God is convinced you're serious, he'll get back to you.

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