APHORISMS ON THE CREATIVE ENDEAVOR
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Twenty-Six Aphorisms on the Creative Endeavor
– last updated June 6, 2013
– last updated April 29, 2014
A Work In/Of Progress
There is no straight line in nature. The first number is 2. All mathematics is an abstraction. ― The truths of the cosmos.
If you do not have work that embarrasses you, that you pray no one ever sees (or have not surreptitiously burned), you are not learning.
Creative writing is hard work. All writing of any competance is hard work. Creative writing is unbelievably hard work. — Not a description, but a commandment.
A work of art can not enter the discourse of the aesthetic, will not dare enter the eternal discussion between all art and artists, unless it has somethig to bring to the table.
“Write what you know” does not mean limit yourself to what you know. That is the safe path of small minds. “Write what you know” really means learn about your subject before you write about it. Become an expert, so that its words live in your works, and not merely appear.
The enemies of beauty: reportage, dogma, reason, and all else that seeks its purpose and rationale in “truth.” But it is not such: they are, rather, those who make beauty their enemy, and by necessity must so. As for beauty, she understands the rantings of her children, and knows she can dispel their arrogances with but a kiss.
In the plastic arts, the lowest, the most basic, the least aesthetic form of art is representation. That is because representation requires only technique. So also in the verbal arts. Creative writing, writing as an aesthetic endeavor, is making something out of words, out of language. It is not writing down 'what really happened'; it is not documenting a moment, a day, a place or a person; it is not expressing one's emotions (which is still documenting). After all, the phrase is not "accurate writing" but "creative writing." Once that is understood, even non-fiction can be written aesthetically – and to greater success. This is the wisdom of the great essayists – and the humor of that oaf named "creative non-fiction."
Reportage is the opposite of the aesthetic.
Story is not a cord upon which is hung the elements of writing. It is merely a means to ideational unity. And only one, at that.
To ask "What does it mean?" is to be wrong from the start. Meaning is not the aim of creative writing, it is but part of the medium. If you look for meaning in a poem, you are missing its experience. And if the poem has only meaning to give, you should be reading better poetry!
How many poems have I read that begin with cleverness, brilliance, wit, promise, only to dissolute once passed that moment into something so far less, even to uncontrolled blather. I fear the workshop nonsense preached for the short story has corrupted poetics, that believed eminence of the opening hook. Or perhaps this speaks more of the laziness of the poems' authors! After all, an architect does not lay a cornerstone only to rest upon it; he sets the stone and cries out against the weariness to come, "We are now begun!"
An artist finds immediacy when his audience is struck speechless; immortality when they can not stop talking. Thus the bar for the artist: works that refuse to be reduced to easy definitions.
Which is to say works that will not be reduced to culture.
Show, don't tell; Write what you know; You must hook the reader at the start; ― These are the words of the false prophets of the aesthetic. Who is the idiot who first told their students never use adverbs?
One of the fundamental rules of literary endeavor: every word should leave the reader wanting the next word; every line, every sentence, the next line or sentence; every stanza, paragraph and page, the next likewise; and every poem, book, or story should leave the reader wanting to read that poem, book, or story again, and to seek out others by you. If ever not, you have in that moment failed. Though, the linearity of that is but illusion and the accomplishment of lesser makers.
Aesthetic writing – and poetry in particular – is about words. It is about the sharing of words. It is about the discovery of words. It is about the creative use of words. And, again, sharing those discoveries and usages. Any other approach can be only attributed to laziness, or to a psychical insularity, neither of which makes for anything terribly interesting.
Of course, it is even more about phrases, and sounds, and rhetorics, and arrangements, and rhythms.
A little poetic math:
(DIARY) ≠ (POETRY)Indeed:
(DIARY + LINE BREAKS) ≠ (POETRY)
When it comes to it, the only thing diary with line breaks equals, is diary with line breaks.
This is fundamental. You can not write things of beauty until you stop writing diary.
Nothing in language can be more deflating, more contaminatory, more decisively fatal to a creative endeavor than the appearance of the personal "I."
The phrase "I wrote a poem last night" to any sophisticated ear is the precise equivalent to the phrase "I wiped my psychoemotional ass last night and scanned the results into a word processor." There are primarily three exceptions to this. One, sillies. (Or poems offered with a smile.) Two, single couplets or quatrains. Three, those events where "last night" began, in truth, at some point in mid-morning five days prior, and between that time and the present "last night" became rather a blurred concept. To anyone of any sophistication, the phrase "I wrote a poem last night" is a neon-bright warning that they are about to be handed a piece of used Charmin. That's something to keep in mind, you budding poets.
If there is no point to it, there is no reason for it.
The "creative" in creative writing does not mean "imaginative." It means making something new.
The difference between "poetry" and "prose" as types of form is irrelevant to the creative process. If you begin by thinking one or the other, you have already limited your creating. Indeed, they are terms that are applied most accurately only with the least creative works. That is to say, they are only genres, and the creative endeavor is the opposite of the replication and reinforcement of genres.
If you are going to use paragraphs in your writing, then those paragraphs should have a purpose. A paragraph is a unit of form – you cannot pretend it otherwise. Poor attention to paragraphs makes for poor creating and poorer reading. They are you throwing the burden of organization upon the reader, declaring yourself to the public too lazy to be bothered with it yourself, and your work too addlepated to know the difference.
So also with line breaks and stanzas.
A synechdocic analogy ― Visual shape as a purpose unto itself may be the least of all justifications of line and stanza breaks. It is rare that such making will merit any more than a patronizing "how clever of you!" As such, a writer should take no pride in it, if not question its value at every step.
Yes, visual shape can be integral to the ideation of the work. But mastery of such is a treacherous journey, frought with triviality to the left and gimmickry to the right. Let your guide be the philosophy of the sherpas: if there is any doubt, then do not put your weight on it. Better yet, stay off that mountain until someone who has climbed it declares you fit enough. A climber tangled in their ropes makes only for laughter.
Though, among fellow climbers, a laughter of sympathetic and shared joy!
With aesthetic writing, every element of the text should serve the purpose of creating as great an experience for the reader as the text can permit – as great a creative experience for the reader, for the creative engagement that results in the aesthetic object results also in a creative engagement for the reader. Such development is measured both across the shorter time of the making of the text and the longer time of the individual's life.
And how can that rule be applied to writing if it is not first applied to the self?!
Just because a writer is popular does not mean their writing is good — something readily mouthed, but infrequently acted upon.
Of course, that does not mean that popular writers have nothing to teach. After all, even the newcome climber on their first steps needs a something to overcome.
Creative writers should live their lives in fear of hearing those most dreaded words, I have read something like this before. Especially writers of the self.