Sunday, September 28, 2008

Are You a Writer?

'I could never be a writer. Writing, I believed, was a spectator sport for me. I imagined the process as long, tedious, and certainly not something I was capable of. I pictured the lone man, tugging on his beard and banging on his typewriter; a single swallow left in a tumbler on the table, waiting as reward once the thread of inspiration had been pulled from his mind. That’s not me. I’m not creative. This was the constant whisper of a lifetime. Omnipresent and no more irrefutable than, “I cannot fly.” I wish I knew the moment this changed, but becoming a writer has been less like the bloom of childbirth, than the process of pregnancy. '
--from a recent guest post on the popular and routinely brilliant Copyblogger blog.


At 2:32 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

It's an interesting article, and some of the comments that follow are interesting. As usual, there are few camps of opinion that seem to be talking about the same thing but aren't:

1. everyone is a writer, because writing is easy

2. but REAL writing is hard, and rare: just because because you can put pen to page, doesn't mean you're a writer. You could be a secretary.

What I find interesting whenever I encounter a basic cheerleading approach such as this—valid as it is for its context—is that the support-group aspect can only carry one so far.

After a certain point, encouragement or no, one has to go inside and follow one's inner compass wherever it might lead. There's a point at which even the support-group-level encouragement becomes a hindrance rather than a support.

Maybe that's when the real work of writing begins, and all that preceded it was warm-up.

So, while I applaud the sentiments of this thread, and its good points, I'm sorry, it does feel a little elementary. Arguing with myself, I could say: there are always new beginners who need encouragement. Many of them are surprisingly good, too, because they haven't had their wings clipped by channeled teachings as yet. But at the same time, I have recently realized for myself if for no one else, it's time to go to earthschool as a grad student and not a perpetual beginner. So, while I applaud the cheerleading approach, I find it no longer means anything to me.

Doubtless my viewpoint shall be discredited by all those who still require external encouragement. Ah well.

At 2:41 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Wow. What I love about this process is how it often yields comments, as was the case here, that are far more interesting than the underlying material being commented upon. Lots of food for thought here. I'll process it after I'd done watching my embattled Cleveland Browns. Meanwhile, we'd love to hear other takes on Art's observations.

At 9:47 PM, Blogger Michelle O'Neil said...

Um...what's a typewriter?

At 9:56 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

They were way before your time, MO, like vinyl records.

At 11:44 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I dunno. I may not be a writer. I don't appear to fit any of the stereotypes of what a writer is supposed to be like. I appear not to suffer enough for my art. Although I can fit into camp 1, in which anyone who puts words to a page is a writer. I tend to agree with the arguments in the opposing camp, though, so I'm not sure where that leaves me. Perhaps in limbo. But I may not be a writer.

Even if in my basement I have a collection of antique typewriters, including several unusual old portables with travel cases. A pretty serious collection of typewriters, actually. But then, I like old tech. And as a type designer, it's nice to have old tech on hand for design inspiration.

At 4:20 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Actually, feeling like you're forever in limbo sounds quite familiar. And I think you're treating that casual little article as far too definitive, Art. The Copyblogger site is really directed at writers of marketing material, who probably always feel like they have a large asterisk hanging over their designation as writers. That's most of what's driving that little piece, I think.

At 11:51 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Yeah, I think you're correct about all that.

I'm also aware that I was being a wee bit sardonic in my second post; okay, I'll own it, I was being sarcastic, at least obliquely.

I went over there and posted something, too, following your link. Basically making some similar points about inner direction as an artist vs. outer cheerleading. I worked in marketing a long time; people lose their center all too often in that field, because they spend most of their time writing FOR others, and dependent upon their good opinions as to whether or not the writing "succeeds" at all. Copywriters have several traps they often fall into: repeating themselves; trying to manipulate too overtly; trying to please others. It can kill creativity, actually. And I can say that as someone who has made more or a living from his commercial art than his fine art, and without bitterness: it IS a shark tank. You have to mind your boundaries very well.

At 12:02 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Well said! I didn't know for sure that you had that background in marketing, but I sensed that might be the case (from your comments here as well as your own blog postings). I think you're right on the money about the inherent traps of copywriting. But I'm also wondering about the extent to which your commercial art has informed your fine art, and vice versa. Or do you keep them entirely separate in your mind?

At 2:06 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I don't keep them separate, as pieces I've made for my own pleasure, as part of my own "fine art" work have been requested to be published, sold prints of, used as illustrations for magazines and books, etc. So, I don't make a hard distinction.

When I was working in marketing/publishing, I made a distinction only in the sense that Piece A is intended for this purpose, while Piece B is intended for this other purpose. But those boundaries are very squishy, and permeable. There were a few times when an art director saw a piece I'd made for my own pleasure and interest, and asked me to illustrate an article with a new piece "LIKE that piece." In other words, re-versioning happens all the time.

I've been reading a lot of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, and about them, this past month while on the road. I thought several times that the battles they fought to make photography recognized AS art are now battles I'm fighting again, but differently. Photography still isn't taken as seriously as painting or sculpture as fine art—except black and white. Weston talks about that, and I'll be posting about it soon.

The distinction between commercial art and fine art is very easy or very tricky to negotiate. I am reminded of one of John Cage's stories from "Indeterminacy" when an ad agency called him up and asked him if he was willing to "prostitute his art," i.e. the percussion music for which he was first known. He said, "Certainly," although in the end the agency that his music was too good for them. It's a great story!

As for informing, both kinds of art are one in that they inform each other technically back and forth, and things I work out in one sphere I often use in the other. I have always viewed most of my commercial pieces as sketches for later, personal pieces. As I indicated above, sometimes the reverse is also true. Right now I'm in discussions with a publisher who loves one of the images I made for my website's Road Journal; he wants to publish it in a book. And trust me, that was a piece I made to illustrate the essay I was writing, and I made it very quickly in Photoshop. So, it's all open, it's all good, and I don't keep many distinctions in my mind.

My biggest problem with marketing my fine art is finding my audience; connecting with them has been an ongoing challenge (one reason I find it ironic that my blog is become better known than the art or music). I seem to be a few years off artistic fashion, always. Either ahead or behind, but never on pitch. That doesn't bother me, but it's telling when you keep getting turned down by galleries and other "fine art venues." And at the same time you've also been making a living off "non-fine art."

The distinction is frankly mostly in the minds of marketers and other forces driven by commerce; I honestly don't thin most artists care. Those that do are fighting personal battles with their psychology, in my opinion, or are fighting for something avant-garde in an era that doesn't appreciate them. I include galleries as being driven by commerce. (Museums less so, but money still matters.) Any artist who thinks galleries are support systems is incredibly naive.

I'd have to say that I've made more income off commercial art than fine art; but so have many others. Caravaggio was basically a commercial artist, if you think about it; so were most artists during the patronage era.

At 6:36 PM, Blogger Pat Washington said...

I've just stopped by to skim, but this quote stuck out at me. "...but REAL writing is hard, and rare: just because because you can put pen to page, doesn't mean you're a writer. You could be a secretary."

Huh? I am both. I have a certain devotion to my young children, and so I work part-time as a secretary someplace where they can be with me if necessary. And there is much writing in my job -- I do much copyediting for my bosses. I make their communication look and read much better. I also do some IT tasks. Am I paid for it? No.

Am I more than a secretary? Yes. A freelancer and a former reporter with a BA in English with a writing concentration.

Some secretaries may not be that good, but many of them are great skills in many areas.

At 6:41 PM, Blogger Pat Washington said...

I guess I can't edit these comments, can I? Sorry for the typos.... I was typing fast because we're about to leave for my son's music lesson. Writers should be more meticulous, huh?

At 7:08 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Art, in your last comment, you said many things that resonate with my own experience. And yes, simply saying something is "commercial" art, writing or whatever in the artistic realm doesn't necessarily make it bad. The boundaries are indeed permeable, and regardless of its uses, any piece of writing (even the commercial or marketing piece) can be artful and the product of everything one has learned in the pursuit of one's craft.

Pat, your comments about performing writing duties in a secretarial context fit nicely into that theme. Enough said there. And I certainly feel your pain about typos in blog comments. I've done that enough myself so that now I always first use the preview function (when available), for that very reason. But don't sweat it: you're among friends here.

At 11:06 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

No offense was intended to secretaries. Some of my best friends, etc.

I think the distinction being made that no one is actually saying out in the open is the distinction between ordinary writing and "creative writing." Of course everyone who writes is a writer. But copywriting aside, marketing and so forth, a lot what these folks are talking about is creative writing, rather than letter dictation. That gets back to the distinction I made in my original comment here.

At 8:14 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

We got you. And if ever there was a loaded term, one that means different things to different people, it's "creative writing."

At 12:33 PM, Blogger TJ Sullivan said...

To be a writer and to write well are two completely different things. Or, to put it Charles Bukowski's way:

"... there'll always be money and whores and drunkards
down to the last bomb,
but as God said,
crossing his legs,
I see where I have made plenty of poets
but not so very much

— "To The Whore Who Took My Poems," By Charles Bukowski, "Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame" (1983)

At 1:17 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks for that uniquely Sullivanian contribution to the conversation, TJ. You've now achieved a kind of minor virtual immortality, by having your name converted into an adjective. Your fellow Angeleno Bukowski did have a pungent way of putting things, didn't he?

At 2:10 PM, Blogger TJ Sullivan said...

I get Buke. Must be the pub I grew up in and around (one of my dad's second, or third jobs) two blocks from our local parish (where my dad was also an usher). Yep. Irish Catholic.

At 2:13 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Then I assume you saw the movie that came out (briefly) last year about his life? It was not uninteresting, but I'm afraid poor wooden Matt Dillon didn't quite seem up to the task of playing a complicated guy.

At 2:21 PM, Blogger TJ Sullivan said...

Factotum (2005). I agree. It's worth renting. But, so far, nobody's topped Mickey Rourke's portrayal of Buke's alter ego, Henry "Hank" Chinaski, in "Barfly."

Now if they'd just rerelease "Barfly" on DVD. It's out of print and hovers around $100 per DVD on ebay, etc...

At 2:26 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Wow, thanks for the tip, although I'll have to pass on the $100 tab. Come to think of it, I recall another poet friend mentioning that moview was worth seeing. Anyway, I take it that means it would also be unavailable through Netflix? Can any Netflix users out there enlighten us?

At 7:27 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Congratulations on yet another link from Romenesko today. Great job on keeping up with that ridiculous Wendy McCaw story.

At 8:52 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Sorry, I meant to add this link, which explains my previous comment about TJ's recent work:

At 10:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forget "Factotum." Go rent "Born Into This", the Bukowski documentary with B&W footage of Buke doing poetry readings.

At 10:13 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Now there's some interesting new information. Thanks, Miles. Never heard about this one. It figures a fellow poet would know about it, though.

At 11:34 AM, Blogger TJ Sullivan said...

I second that. "Born Into This" is quite good.

And Netflix does not have "Barfly," though you can SAVE it as a future pick with an undetermined release date.

Best bet is to either find a place that still rents "Barfly" on VHS, or buy a VHS on Amazon, or e-bay. You can get those for under $10.

At 11:38 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks for that, TJ. I'm so on top of everything with all this help from y'all. Thanks, everyone.

At 12:43 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Also, get and read Bukowski's diary with photos of a European reading tour he did late in life, titled "Shakespeare Never Did This." Very insightful, and lots of fun, with a wee dram of decadence thrown in.

At 1:57 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

That title made me laugh. What a classic. I'll be sure to try to find that on my next bookstore outing. The guy sure produced a lot in his relatively short life.


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