The Inner Wellspring Dept.


The discussion is about music, but this could apply to most any talk about art:

... because of our Internet facilitated increased inter-connectivity, less people are making personal art.  Deep engagement with one's own surroundings can seem so boring, so artists look outward with the ease of the click of a button.  The Techno producers in this documentary seem to be hyper aware of how their surroundings informed their music.  I think these days, the best of us continue that tradition.

It's something I've faced up to myself, many times. I've written books set in other times and places, but I know if I don't infuse them with something taken from my own life, they're dead meat.

The Four-Day Weekend was more directly informed by my own life than most anything else I'd done up to that point. During the preparation period for the book, I hearkened back to conversations I'd had with other budding writers, folks a decade or more younger than myself, all engaged in things that were explicitly fantasy or SF or some variety of same. When I noted that you have to draw on your own life for everything you write, one of the most common responses I got was this:

"But my life's not interesting."

I could see where they were coming from, too. I wasn't a Wielder of the Sword of the Six Suns in a war against the Hellbinders of Nozg; I was some schlub in Jersey (or Long Island, or wherever) poking around in some job where I messed with computers all day.

So I had to rephrase things. To wit:

When you draw on your own life for inspiration, that doesn't mean you draw exclusively on the exciting and adventurous parts. In fact, the number of people who have had adventures worth writing about is minimal. What you want to do is take the little things that happen, good or bad, and draw wisdom from them.

This also means drawing on things that you don't want to draw on. I've had some humiliating experiences in my life that I don't want to go on about in public. But I glean things I learned about myself, and human nature generally, from those experiences. I'd be short-changing myself to not draw on them. You can't fake what you don't have, as Mr. Cray once said — and you can't put into a story the pain and the love and the trouble that most stories revolve around if you didn't get those things from somewhere inside.

Another thing you can do is draw on little things that can be expanded into big things. The way someone lives a completely ordinary life can be loaded with details that are beyond anything you could invent. Go pick up Joseph Mitchell's My Ears Are Bent for endless torrents of such details, like the bar owner who would shake his fists at the ceiling and cry out "I am being crucified!" when he felt like the universe was screwing him (which was more often than not). Writing like this is an example of how a whole New York City of old has vanished, and how a whole way of listening to quirky human experience and seeing it for itself is dying out.

If you aren't going to dig that deeply, then your work is going to be correspondingly facile. It's going to be about ideas and plots and actions, not people and emotions and behavior. People will read it and nod and move on to something else.

Or you can invest it with something from within, the way people like Ray Bradbury did, and keep 'em coming back.


Tags: culture dharma links writers writing




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