This topic is one that may sound a bit odd right out of the gate, but hopefully I can explain it in a way that will make sense. This idea comes from my post from last week as well and the intention is to explain what it’s like to produce a work that you don’t particularly care for and why you shouldn’t give up on those pieces.
In my own experience ideas can come from just about anywhere and can lead to just about any type of work. The plus side of this is that you can stumble upon many ideas in a day and that one may even relate to another in ways that you wouldn’t previously have thought. One important thing that I must touch on in this post is that quite often when the muse comes to us, no matter what type of work you do, there will be many times that, if you let it, the work will just flow through you and put itself down onto paper without much real effort from you. In essence you are a conduit for an idea or a piece that is so powerful that it knows exactly what it needs, where it needs to go. The characters will often know exactly where they need to show up, what they should say or think and how they should feel and, rather than you having to brainstorm for hours on end to find the right turn of phrase, they will tell you if you let them. That has to do with surrendering yourself to the piece and letting it work its magic, but that is another post- likely my next.
The point of that description was to come to the fact that, every now and again, we might come upon a finished product that we’ve labored on for hours, take one look at it and feel absolute contempt. We might think the work in front of us is the worst thing we’ve ever produced, may even be almost ashamed of it. It can be written to perfection with not a single mistake to speak of, yet we just don’t feel the passion for it that we may feel for other pieces. When this happens the temptation to crumple the piece up and toss it in the wastebasket may be almost too strong to resist – but you really need to resist it.
Personally, as I’ve said before, I’ve had works that I love and hate. I’ve had things come from my mind that I think no one will like or buy and it ends up being someone’s favorite. Like I said last week; my first rejection came from a work I adored and my first publication was a work I didn’t care much for at all. That’s just how it goes sometimes. I know I always tend to refer to Stephen King in these posts, but that’s because he’s my favorite author. He literally threw Carrie in the trash because he hated it so bad. He felt it would never be a hit, it would never even be good, but his wife convinced him not to give up. What happened? Carrie got picked up almost right after completion and put King on the road to being the true master of modern literary horror.
On the other hand, as an artist, we may feel a particular attraction to a piece that comes to us and we may decide to spend untold amounts of time on the piece and end up having to publish some of our lesser liked things just to keep afloat and not become lost in the tide. My real humbling experience in this area came when I was invited to a publication reception for that piece I didn’t like very much.
I was sitting at a table with a number of people who had somewhere between 20 and 60 years on me, easily. I hadn’t really spoken to anyone, hadn’t introduced myself to most of them and was generally in awe at being invited to read my piece at an honest to goodness literary reception. Many of these people, I would later find out, are actually a part of the Appalachian Heritage Writers Guild and arrange the annual symposium I taught at last summer, and they had known each other for years. While sitting in near silence on my end of the table, the man who arranged the reception asked one of the older ladies what she thought of the issue of the Clinch Mountain Review we had all been featured in.
She responded in a way that astounds me and flatters me to this day. She said she felt the issue was one of the strongest in the last few years and that she particularly loved the piece by Damean Mathews. She said she felt my use of imagery and symbolism was just great and she had a wonderful time reading the piece. The editor of the journal, who knew who I was smiled at me as I looked at the lady, who has since become a friend of mine, and thanked her very much for complementing me so much. My heart was in my throat, pounding hard enough to deafen me, and I couldn’t have been happier. The piece that I had published was one that I felt sure was just going to fall to the wayside and end up being forgotten because it wasn’t much good at all, but this clearly wasn’t the case.
My point here is really something I’ve said many many times. We are always our own harshest critic. We will tear our work and ourselves down time and time again and will be absolutely relentless in our efforts to convince ourselves that we have failed in some way or another. But why? All of our pieces come to us for a reason, right? Each and every idea that we have been blessed to have flow through our minds has done so for a reason. Some pieces we will naturally be more drawn to, just as we will be drawn to certain pieces of literature over others, but many factors can come into play there. So many things have to be taken into account in these cases that there really isn’t enough space in one to post to list them all. But one thing we must never do as artists of any kind is give up on a piece. It has come to us for a reason and we must treat it as such.
I understand some of us draw or write only for ourselves, never letting anyone else see our work, but this post can even still apply to cases like that. We must never look at any one piece of our work as being more or less worthy than another. They have all been given to us for a reason and, whether anyone else will ever see the work, we must recognize that it is ours and it is important and special in its own right. That’s not to say that we still can’t have a favorite piece of our own work that we feel expresses who we are as an artist better than another piece might, because that is just nature. We will always be drawn to certain things and we may always feel a little less attached to others, but no matter how we feel, we need to give all of our pieces equal respect, because that piece you hate, the one that part of you might wish you’d never written or that you might wonder what it means that you did, might end up being your biggest hit – or at least one that puts you on the map.