Friday, February 8, 2019

Moonlight Musings














Don't Lose Heart!

A friend I lunched with yesterday was very excited. He had been to buy some art supplies, and while there had spotted this quote displayed:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” 
― Ira Glass

Actually it was displayed like this. (I went to find it for myself and took a snap.) Quite witty, huh, to reproduce it on glass, considering the author's name? But not easy to read in a photo, so I thought you'd better have the text above too.




If you live in America you probably know a lot more than I did about Ira Glass. His Wikipedia entry has just told me that he is a public radio personality and TV presenter, plus a lot of other information which stamps him as a busy and productive man. 

But it is the quote itself which I wanted to draw to your attention – even if you have seen it before, as you may well have done; it was easy to find online.

Is it true for you? Did you go through the kind of phase described? The kinds of reactions? I certainly did, more than once; the most recent occasion only a few weeks ago. It is something which can happen to the experienced, not only those just beginning. I like to think it heralds a new quantum leap in my poetic development each time.

 Because that's the other thing that happens. Improvement can occur gradually, and often does – but sometimes it appears to be sudden, apparently out of nowhere. It happens on an unconscious level first, with no appearance of anything at all happening. When it appears on the page, everyone is taken unawares, including the poet. Glass is writing about all kinds of art, but poetry is definitely one example. The same applies to these other quotes I snapped at the same time:



I do like Warhol's advice! However it could be taken to mean that we need never revise our work, which I think would be a mistake. I'd rather see revision as part of the 'making', the 'getting it done'.

Batman's stern admonition, straight to the point is more of the same. The overall message in all these is, 'Don't give up!' 

Is there also a suggestion that we should refrain from judging our own art? Warhol seems to be saying so.

It's very hard to tell how good or otherwise our own work is, I think. We tend to rate it low – so much so that my only absolute rule in poetry workshops is to forbid people prefacing a sharing of their writing with self-disparaging remarks – 'This isn't very good' and the many variations on that theme.  

At the very least I think it's unwise to pass judgment on our writing immediately. It's very hard to be objective until some time has elapsed. If I complete a new poem to my own satisfaction, I'm inclined to think it's brilliant. Two days later I'm more likely to view it as a pathetic failure. It's better to set it aside for a few weeks or months. Meanwhile, one might as well follow Warhol's advice and get on with making more.

The 'gap' which Glass describes is a little different from that, though, isn't it? It's a more general falling short of our own aspirations, not just in a specific artistic creation but all of them. But again there is nothing to be done except to keep on. If we don't actually make the art /do the writing, it can never improve. If we do, we may not think so beforehand but it almost certainly will. 

One of the most exciting things about being involved in a community like Poets United is to see the development in people's work over time when people do keep writing. Yet we don't give each other in-depth criticism unless it's specifically requested; rather, we pay attention and give encouragement. The development comes because we keep practising our art.

Another thing that shows up is how different we all are, each with our own individual voice, so that there are many, many ways to write 'good poetry'. It becomes evident, too, that the degree of excellence will vary from poem to poem, even for the most consistent of us. Even my favourite, most admired poets will produce specific pieces which stand out above all the rest of their work. So if you find that some of your poems don't please you, be aware that this is a subjective and possibly temporary assessment. 

Meanwhile, those who tell us to 'keep on keeping on' might just have a point!

25 comments:

  1. A serious poet will keep on reading and writing whatever s/he writes because the buzzing words inside them will want to get out. The urge is always there. These poets can't live without writing a poem. There's always a theme for them & they do improve by more writing. I wonder if the word 'procrastination' can at all be applied to them, when they take a break. I wish I could belong to this category. A very interesting topic, Rosemary. Thanks for the post.

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    1. I believe you do belong to the category--at least, I find your poems inspiring, both in content and in form. They are so unique that they often surprise me.

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    2. I agree with Susan. I was astounded to read that you don't think you're in that category!

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  2. I am so grateful for this post. Thank you Rosemary. I felt this as really good advice. Lately, I've been tempted to stop writing because I'm going through a very long "dry" spell. I'm rethinking that now and am more inclined to persevere, at least show up at the blank page.

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  3. That's an interesting discussion and excellent advice. I think it's only human to beat yourself up about your creations, whether visual, musical or written. I am one of those people who can't stop and I write every day regardless, always looking for inspiration and using prompts to write a first draft and then working on it when I'm ready. Thank you so much for sharing.

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    1. I guess we are all different in our approaches, too, and there's no right or wrong way – just what works for the particular individual.

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  4. I love your Moonlight Musings, Rosemary. The coolest thing about writing in a community of poets is noting all the different voices. I so agree with "keep writing". The muse ebbs and flows and there are times when it is flat.....but the words take life again in time.....i feel much happier in times when i am writing, than i did in years when i neglected my craft.

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    1. Yes, I too love the variety of poetics here. And yes again, I can't be completely happy if I'm not writing. It feels as if I am not really alive!

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  5. This is fab, Rosemary - both the quote and your thoughts. My mind, I confess, has gone the length, breadth and depth of critical rumination countless times - to the point that I force myself to build in some distance between completion and rejigs (and even then, I often still rejig after posting). Overall, with time I have found I am much more satisfied with the finished piece, than when I first began writing. (Putting in the hours does tend to yield improved results.) But, somehow, I doubt I will ever be completely satisfied that there isn't something that could not be improved upon. Perhaps, that too, is part of the creative process.

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    1. I'm a terror for rejigging after posting, often immediately after, but they are usually only fine tweaks. There's something about seeing a piece 'in print' or at least presented in a blog, that makes every flaw show up instantly, lol!

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    2. Me too, Wendy. And I agree with what you say about publishing--at least on the blog, Rosemary. I read it differently when I am reading as a public would, I see it differently and I change at will.

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  6. I love the glass display as well as the quote by Ira Glass--which is what I learn again and again from Julia Cameron. I am still there--as in,I return to the unhappy place again and again as if I was always new. I'm looking for "The Vein of Gold" again, now. As for Glass--I've listened to his work a lot, but find it disturbing--as in, not what I want music to do for me. He had a few pages in my dissertation on Ellen Stewart and LaMaMa ETC. I am grateful for this Musings--especially this morning.

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    1. I'm not a big fan of Glass's work either – but in the words quoted he is talking more about process (or even pre-process) than result. I'm deeply interested in that.

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  7. Lovely. I agree with your points and Ira Glass's & Andy Warhol's views.
    "It takes years to make an overnight success" & "Rome wasn't built in a day". I believe in not giving up.
    Have a great week!

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  8. I agree that one of the exciting things about a poetry community is seeing the improvement in poets. I do think we have all seen poets whose work has improved over the time we have known them. I could name names (smiles) but won't! And as for our own work, I think (for example) that mine ebbs and flows. I guess we have to go with it....and realize that is the way of 'art.' I also like your comment, Rosemary, that there are many ways to write good poetry. I also like that in your poetry workshops you forbid people from making disparaging remarks about their own poetry. So very easy to do! Really a thoughtful feature this week. Thank you.

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    1. The ebb and flow is a good way of looking at it – an organic process, after all.

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  9. I’ve been absent from Poets United for a few years. This post reminds me why I write and do creative work. Time to get to it again!

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  10. Lately, i am losing the urge to write, and what i have written since are all rather dark and angry. i hope this is just a passing phase. i hope to be posting again soon. your words remind me that the process is as important as the poem. maybe i am distracted at the moment. maybe those angry words turn out to be readable poetry after all. maybe relatable too.
    Thank you, Rosemary, for this very excellent article. :)

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  11. I love writing poetry. I find it very relaxing and therapeutic. I am a prolific writer but I am certain I would not be one without a blog. The idea of instant publication with visuals videos and music ,to me, is just magical.I'm afraid the written word without the enhancements would never be enough now. I see everything in terms of poetry.Someone said being a poet is a condition rather than a metier...I think I could be in the advance stages:)

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  12. I love this quote. I put it on a doc and printed it out! Thank you.

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