I tend to be long winded. It seems I apologize a lot for this trait, even though I’m not sure why. I never mastered the idea of making a long story short. I can, however, stretch out a long story to make it darned near endless. Being that my brain is in overdrive mode, that means not one but two blog posts today. Lucky you. And you also should know I probably won’t tell this post in short form either.
Someone said something to me this afternoon that kind of caught me off guard. Okay, not that THIS person said it, but that it gave me an idea to ponder, one I’ve been turning over and over in my head since. This person, meaning no harm, I know, stated that they were a little worried about the fact that this other person had bought one of my books, because they were not going to like it. The book in question was my last novel, Blessed Light Cleansing Rain, and I’ll go ahead and tell you what about the book this person isn’t going to like. There is a gay couple in this book. They are not the main characters, but they were my favorite characters. I’ve actually been considering writing them their own novel. I know much more about them than what I was able to put into this book. Anyway, the comment this person made was that they were not going to like the book because the person was the biggest bigot they knew.
I sat there a minute and then shrugged and said,”I am not responsible for their perceptions. I did not write this book for them, I wrote this book for myself.”
As usually happens, this idea took hold of me and I’ve been thinking about it all day. How much of what we write, do we write for others, and how much for ourselves? Every reader is not going to like every book we write. Why? Because we are all different and we all bring our own tastes and experiences to the table. Everything is not for everyone. If it were, there would be no diversity in art, or in anything else. Secondly, although there is some essence of my personal being in what I write, every character is not always going to do what I would do, say what I would say, or live the way I do. If I only wrote characters that were just like me, everything I wrote would be two dimensional and boring. It would all be the same. The characters in my books have their own personalities, their own likes and dislikes, fears and experiences. Those are sometimes vastly different from my own. When I write, I am writing their story, not my own. Sometimes even I am not going to like something one of my characters does. I wouldn’t want to.
Blessed Light Cleansing Rain was the book the characters needed me to write. It’s been called “heartwarming,” which I thought was nice. It was also called “predictable,” which didn’t hurt my feelings. I meant to tell a heartwarming tale, and to a certain extent, that means a certain amount of predictability. I hope it is not my best work, because I hope I can take the criticism and use it constructively. I hope I can continue to practice my craft and hone my skills. I know the kind of writer I wish to be and I know I am not there yet. I doubt I ever will be “there” if “there” is even a place I could possibly get to. Do I still look at the work with a critical eye seeing things I “should” have changed? Of course. Do I love the work? Yes. Am I proud of it? Yes. Was it a labor of love? Definitely. Do I take writing lightly believing it to be an easy pursuit and anything you write is publish worthy? Absolutely not. (as my stacks of never to be published manuscripts lie lazily collecting dust in my closet)
I stand by my characters and I love them each for different reasons. Will everyone love them as I do? No. Is that okay? Of course. I am not responsible for the prejudices and preconceived notions of others. When I read a book I take my own experiences into it, just as other people do. I am not going to fret over whether or not my character’s lifestyle choices are going to be applauded by a reader. If I did that, I would never write another line, because there is always something that would offend someone else.
This thought process brought me to something someone recently told my daughter about her art. I hope this person doesn’t mind, because I am going to share a bit of what he told her, because I think what he said is so very important to any type of artist.
My daughter admires this person as an artist, and he recently invited her to share and discuss her own drawings with him so that he could help to steer her in her passion and offer insights and wisdom gained from the years he has spent pursuing his craft. She sent a picture of her most recent drawing and asked him if he liked it. What he told her was what I had been trying, and failing, to convey, but he did it eloquently and with all honesty and truth.
He told her that he would answer that question, but it was going to come with stipulations. He said that yes, he liked her drawing; that it was interesting and thought provoking. But he told her to be careful with the word “like.” He told her that “like” is complicated, because how we decide whether or not we like something is filtered through our own experiences. He told her liking something was not a gauge for what was good. Your art is your power. I’m going to quote him now, and again, hope he doesn’t mind. (since I didn’t ask)
“If you make art in the hopes that another person is going to like it, you are handing them all your power. Never hand over your power. At the same time, make sure your art is not a selfish pursuit. Art only exists between you and the viewer. Its primary goal is to communicate with and relate to others on a deeper level than any other interaction can. When you make art for these reasons instead of “likes”, you can can stand in front of a whole army of naysayers and look them all right in the eyes. You’ll notice they are the ones that start to flinch, not you.”
This may have been meant for my daughter, but reading it struck a chord with me as well. I think it is a brilliant insight and one that we would do well to remember as we continue to create the work our hearts insist upon.