Is it a passion? Fulfilling a need to be recognized as something bigger than I am? A calling? What?
Why do other writers write, or artists make art, or performers perform? Do they even ask the question? Do they need to? Do I?
A few nights ago at an industry screening of Hugo, I asked the famous screenwriter John Logan the following question, “Why do you write?”
His answer, paraphrased here, I expected. He said, “I love writing. It’s all I’ve ever done. There is nothing I’d rather do.”
I then asked, “But if no one ever heard a word you’re written, would you still be writing?”
“Probably not,” he said immediately, then joked, “Don’t ask me that question.”
I thanked him for his honesty and thought about another writer’s website declaration. He stated, (again paraphrased) “I’d rather have you READ my books than buy them and put them away.”
I feel the same way.
Do you as well? Do you need a big fan base to feel “writerly”?
Or…is our art NOT about us? Instead, we’re messengers of ideas that unite us all for a common vision, before our self-doubt creeps in.
Doubts like, are we accomplished enough in our craft? Will other’s relate to our words? If not, can we call ourselves artists? If no one wants our art and we keep cranking it out, are we ahead of our time, or just delusional and still learning?
But learning to do what? Impress readers with fancy technique? Or to convey relevant content? Are we writing for prestige? Or the quest to bring ideas to others? If we’re writing solely for fame and fortune, does this make us more commercial but less of an artist?
These questions are important to me, and their answers lead to the prime question:
What is the difference between living as an artist and living as an narcissist?
The difference revolves around where we steer attention.
- Artists ask, will you look at what I’ve made?
- Writers ask, will you read what I’ve written?
- Performers ask, will you watch what I’m doing?
- Models in sex movies ask, will you look at ME?
I don’t want my stories and blog to be about me. I want it to be about you, and the ideas I spark in your head. If I’m not adding to your thoughts, why publish? Just to do it? Uh uh. That’s not me.
I’ve always respected individuals who do great things, create great things, and don’t think about it. It’s their nature to do good stuff. They can’t stop and they don’t. My wife is a good example. She’s one of the most generous people I’ve ever known. She gives things to people. She makes things for people. And she cares for people. My wife is a registered nurse.
Sometimes I ask her, “You kill yourself for others and sometimes all that giving isn’t appreciated. Why do you it?”
My wife answers, “Because it makes me feel good.”
Helping people makes her feel good. And maybe that’s all the explanation necessary for why any artist makes art.
The process feels good.
Still, good feelings about writing doesn’t guarantee good writing. Or any artistic expression.
Is that important? If we’re writing for others, sure it is.
But how do we know when our writing works? When people tell us it does. And the more people who do that, the more social proof comes back to us. And when we’ve got it all down, and we’re selling books, or paintings, or theater tickets, the ultimate question finally presents itself:
What is the PURPOSE of art?
My answer to that is, art expresses universal truth, and in doing so, creates a shared experience.
This is what I’m trying to do, write about ideas that create a collective experience, which then builds more ideas. Having a best selling novel getting rave reviews can make that happen. It’s a popular ambition, so I’ve heard.
The last question directed to John Logan came from a high school girl sitting behind me. She asked, “Do you ever think your ideas aren’t good anymore?”
John’s answer came back to us something like this: “I’m constantly questioning myself and my abilities. But at the end of each writing day, I have to feel good about what I’ve done. I have to believe I’ve created something really exceptional. Then I can sleep.
The next morning my critical mind snaps on and I’ll tear my work apart. Doubting my ability drives me to become a better writer.”
Yeah… I can definitely agree with that.