My latest piece for Ploughshares Literary Magazine posted today – featuring advice for writers, from a literary agent. (I KNOW.)
So get to clicking, and go pick up 5 tips for writers – from the agent’s POV.
“the self is as strong as it is active. There is no genuine strength in possession as such, neither of material property nor of mental qualities like emotions or thoughts. There is also no strength in use and manipulation of objects; what we use is not ours simply because we use it. Ours is only that to which we are genuinely related by our creative activity […] The inability to act spontaneously, to express what one genuinely feels and thinks, and the resulting necessity to present a pseudo self to others and oneself, are the root of the feeling of inferiority and weakness. Whether or not we are aware of it, there is nothing of which we are more ashamed than of not being ourselves, and there is nothing that gives us greater pride and happiness than to think, to feel, and to say what is ours.”
—Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom
What gear should I buy? What software are you using? What apps did you use while writing your last novel? What kind of [fill in instrument] is that?
If not possessions, perhaps situations. Locale. Circumstance.
Do you have a studio? Should I move to [fill in big city] too? Should I get a nanny? Do I need to switch to part-time? Do I need to switch to full-time? Do I need to get a(nother) degree? Should I be teaching? Should I stop teaching?
While such questions may get a craftsperson somewhere (sometimes), they’re ultimately distractions. Really sexy, productive-feeling distractions.
For instance, if I can make the craft all about gear, tools, and/or assorted circumstances, I can avoid the terrifying relating-to-myself required of all creators. I can ignore the sense of weakness and inferiority I feel in front of a blank page, or when sitting (empty) at the piano.
I can believe that my lack of creation is due not to my failure or weakness (or lack of discipline, talent, motivation, skill), but to a lack of materials or access to a specific situation. Cue the bemoaning of low funds, lame writing space, poor connections, limited gear. I’d be ridiculously prolific if only I had that one thing.
Since I’m good at following whine-stimulated rabbit trails, I then spend my restless (creative!) energy researching tools, books, instruments, software, gear, and/or assorted jobs. I put myself at languorous pseudo-ease by accomplishing a non-necessity vaguely related to my art! Hooray! #winsthatarefails
Meanwhile, I’ve only moved things around. I haven’t created anything. “There is no strength in use or manipulation of objects.”
Okay so here’s the thing.
Possessing is no artistic sin. It’s not even shady territory through which we artists should creep warily, lest we lose our Artist Cred.
But it does get in the way.
Primarily because while we’re busy asking questions about possessions, we aren’t asking anything else: of ourselves, of our craft(s), of the blank page, the instrument, the gear we DO have, the ideas we’re back-burnering into eternity, our own unique abysses.
Having and buying shit – blah blah blah. Think, feel, and say what’s yours.
Someone has said that “the literary artist, having attained understanding, communicates that understanding to his readers. That understanding, whether of sexual or other matters, is certain to come into conflict with popular beliefs, fears and taboos, because these are, for the most part, based on error.” […]
People who would be revolted by drawings in Ecce Homo will gaze unblushingly at African pottery or sculpture no matter how much their taste or morals may be offended. In the same spirit they are inclined to be more tolerant of the obscene works of ancient authors. Why? Because even the dullest are capable of admitting to themselves that other epochs might, justifiably or not, have enjoyed other customs, other morals. As for the creative spirits of their own epoch, however, freedom of expression is always interpreted as license. The artist must conform to the current, and usually hypocritical, attitude of the majority. He must be original, courageous, inspiring and all that – but never too disturbing. He must say Yes while saying No. […]
It was demanded of [mankind] to know love, experience union and communion, and thus achieve liberation from the wheel of life and death. But we have chosen to remain this side of Paradise […] In a profound sense we are forever delaying the act. We flirt with destiny and lull ourselves to sleep with myth. We die in the throes of our own tragic legends […] If there is anything which deserves to be called “obscene” it is this oblique, glancing confrontation with the mysteries, this walking up to the edge of the abyss, enjoying all the ecstasies of vertigo and yet refusing to yield to the spell of the unknown.
Let there be complete silence
Not a single word from any of you
until I tell you
I will be with you. I will not
abandon you or fail to help you.
You need only obey
to the letter every law.
Think about these laws
every day and every night.
Be sure to obey all of them.
Joshua destroyed the city of Makkedah.
Not one person was left alive.
Then the Israelis went to Libnah.
Every last person was slaughtered.
From Libnah they went to Lachish.
The entire population was slaughtered.
The Israeli army captured Eglon
and killed everyone in the city.
After Eglon they went to Hebron,
slaughtering the entire population.
Then they turned back to Debir,
and they killed everyone.
So Joshua and his army
destroyed everyone in the land,
just as the Lord God had commanded,