“I’m just an individual who doesn’t feel that I need to have somebody qualify my work in any particular way. I’m working for me.” – David Bowie
And such is the work of the artist.
I started to express myself in written form because I started to feel something bubbling in the depths of my subconscious wanting desperately to come out into the light of day.
“You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” – Morpheus (The Matrix)
There it was. That spark of creativity buried deep within (because no one wanted it at the time) growing so I couldn’t contain it anymore. The symptoms that you have such a gem inside of you? You feel out of sync with the world outside.
Far from being an annoying splint, whatever you were beginning to create, is a diamond in the rough. Yes, it will be rough, raw and ugly when it first comes out, like the sour notes a beginner hits on their instrument, but keep it hidden because of your anxiety and one thing is for certain – you’ll keep hitting dead-ends, burn yourself out and fade before ever having shone your light onto a bleak outside world that needs it.
Ira Glass expresses the initial frustration and the eventual salvation of doing creative work way better than I can.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
William Zinsser stated the four basic premises of writing: clarity, brevity, simplicity and humanity. This is the foundation of my writing practice.
Who’s there to qualify me?
I’m sorry to disappoint (and yet so overjoyed!) that the only person I answer to is myself and my taste. It is early days for me after all, if we consider that it takes roughly 14 years for anyone to be an overnight success. I’ve only been writing regularly for two years.
I have a few faithful readers but ultimately I’m the only one responsible for stretching and strengthening my creative muscle. I used to think accepting money for my writing from any and everyone was going to validate me as an artist. I quickly discovered that my thinking was flawed. I ended up doing work I didn’t believe in because I didn’t know what I stood for.
If my personal values are community, creativity and growth, then why go anywhere outside of my community to offer my skills?
No English Lit Degree? No Worries.
One of the main things that holds people back from pursuing creative work is that they don’t have a degree. “Who am I to express myself?” they ask themselves. I find this is especially true of women. Whereas many women writers in my LinkedIn network have Master’s and PhDs, none of the men do.
Apparently, not feeling qualified is not something that stops men from being vocal.
Why are we as women so intimidated or is there another reason why we seek degrees? I’m not sure. I’m not a sociologist. Having found some stillness and space in my life while I’m raising children has made my inner voice initially sharp and shrill. But these days thankfully, my inner voice is more soothing, deeper and richer ensuring me that I’ve got what it takes to write, speak up and express myself in whatever form the spirit moves me.
Furthermore, if I look into writers with no formal training in writing or the arts, it’s a pretty damn good group of people. There’s Charles Dickens, Maya Angelou, Jack London and Mark Twain to name but a few who didn’t need schools to give them permission to write and leave their mark on society.
What these writers have in common is plenty of life experience.
Many survived poverty, abuse and some lived on the streets. Now, I won’t be doing a stint as a panhandler to improve my craft but volunteering is a good way to get familiar with the human condition. JK Rowling describes working for Amnesty International as an intensely inspiring period in her life. She was particularly moved by the stories of the people who survived despite all the odds against them under oppressive regimes.
So I’m excited to be volunteering at Greenwich Hospital as a biography writer to help palliative care patients record their memoirs to gift to their families. I’m also pursuing a project with the Lane Cove Council as a volunteer to tell the stories of the older residents who’ve started their creative practice later in life.
I have a feeling that these projects will bring more of what I love – writing stories of extraordinary lives.
Over to you…
What creative ambitions have you left behind? What opportunities do you see around you to get back into doing work that inspires you?