An Original View

I write often in this space about the difference between craft and desire. You will do yourself a great favor if you accept that with enough time anyone can learn craft. As my wife told me during her art school days, “Any monkey can learn to draw.”

It’s so true. You have to be reasonably interested in drawing, or writing, or whatever, but with enough time and perhaps a little training anyone can get the craft. As a writer this means that eventually you will look up and realize you can say anything you want to say. This is when the real work begins.

In this same art school where monkeys could learn to draw, teachers would sometimes turn to the students, some of whom were technical wizards, and ask, “What do you want to draw?” And these young people would be stumped. They had never asked themselves this question, and they didn’t know where the answer lay.

The frontiers of your evolving work cannot be reached through craft. Once you have dispensed with the question of craft you can begin to direct all your attention toward the heart of your interest, knowing you can translate anything found there. Do not think, however, that this is any simple journey. You carry your tools of craft as a spelunker carries his light and pick, and what you are seeking has often hidden itself behind years of tradition, habit, family, prejudice, politics, jealousy, envy, ego, greed, and all the other false desires and false loyalties mere craft cannot undo.

You will never get where you want to go thinking and thinking and thinking about craft. Your tools are sharp, your provisions plentiful – no need to check them again. Now it is time to think only of the journey. For this you will need new skills, skills no book or teacher or writing magazine can provide. You must learn to focus your mind’s eye clearly upon what is visible only to you, drawing a map of a world only you can see, and that no one but you will know is accurate. The apparent loneliness of this task is a lie. When you reveal what you have found you will discover that others have known this place too, and that your original view, like the astronaut’s first images of earth, allows others to see anew what they have always loved.

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Show The Way

Autistic children at their most acute appear to have retreated into a land from whose shores they cannot see or hear the rest of the world. “Joining” is a technique used to help guide these children out of their self-imposed isolation. The parent or therapist simply does whatever it is the child does – whether watching the same television show over and over, lying on the ground, or running back and forth and flapping their hands. The idea is this: if you want to guide anyone from one place to another, you have to begin where that other person is. Thus, once you are a part of the child’s activity, you gain their attention naturally and respectfully, without demanding it. Now that the child sees you, you at least have the opportunity to guide them if they choose to follow.

This seems to me a good model for writing. All writers are guides of sorts. The stories and poems we write lead the reader on a journey through an idea we wish to share. This idea may be anything from love triumphs, good concurs evil, or grief will eventually release its hold on us. The journey is usually from dark to light, or from dim to dark to light. Not always, of course. Sometimes stories are told in reverse, particularly when an artist feels compelled to remind the audience of all the darkness she perceives. Usually, however, it is the former.

Thus, if you want to tell a story showing how kindness can overcome greed, you must begin by acknowledging why it sometimes seems that greed always prevails. In this way you are joining the reading public. This is not to say that everyone in the world is cringing about certain of doom, but rather everyone is contending with fear of some kind and on some level more or less all the time, even if only to be aware of its potential.

Almost every story is a journey from fear to love – there is really nothing else to write about. It is no good to simply stand on the banks of love waving your arms and singing how great the sand feels there beneath your feet. You must have the courage to travel back toward your fear, back into the nightmare of doubt. The world of love is a world of trust, after all, trusting that love is, and that given the choice, everyone would travel there. Give them the choice.

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An Old Companion

I have just received editorial notes on the novel currently being shopped by my agent. I always have to take a moment when I think I am done with something and then learn that perhaps I am not. My pride rears up and starts looking for a head to remove, and if none are available it might very well turn on me.

These can be dark days. I believe the editor in question had valid points, and so back I will go to see what changes I would like to make. Yet nowhere is there a solid antidote to the quiet whisper of doubt that arrives as a companion on any new journey. He is so convincing when he pleads his case.

“Look,” I say, “I think I’ve got this.  I’ll just have another look and see what has to be done.”

“But what if you don’t get it this time either?” he asks. “The problem was you weren’t meticulous enough last time. Let me just tag along and I’ll take a good long look at each and every choice you make so you won’t be in this position ever again.”

It’s a generous offer, and he is looking out for my safety, but in truth this fellow would be happiest if I never took the journey at all, for that’s the safest place possible—nowhere. I can’t hate him, though; I’ve invited him often enough before that it must be odd not being asked to come along this time.

I want to be safe too, but there aren’t enough locks on the door, or police on the street, or eyes on my page to keep me safe in the way this companion would like me to be safe. All you need to do is think, “I am unsafe,” and as quick as a blink you are. It is almost impossible to think, “I am safe,” if someone is always asking, “But what if you are unsafe?” and so this fellow cannot come with me.

He will understand. His is not an enviable job, and I believe it was I who assigned it to him once long ago. I might say he will be missed, but I have found that once he’s gone, it is as if he had never been here in the first place.

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