Wednesday, February 21, 2007

On creative pursuits and audiences

Donna blogged about a student writer who has never shown her work to anyone and ended the post with some questions about the nature of writing. Since I do my fair share of writing and feel like I have something to offer on the topic, I'd like to dive into it today. Knitting will tie into it eventually, so don't think I'm veering too far off course.

What is writing for, and what role does the audience play? Coming from a mass communication background, these seem like simple questions. You write to deliver a message to others. The purpose may be to inform, entertain, or enlighten, but in the end, it's done with the intent of conveying something to someone. The message may or may not be tailored to the consumers, but the idea is that it will be consumed.

In fact, the end goal of any creative pursuit is to present it to an audience. Filmmakers don't finish movies so they can sit unwatched on shelves. Knitters don't make scarves to be stuffed in the backs of closets. The shelf and the closet might be where the creations reside, but they weren't made with the original intent of keeping them hidden. There's intrinsic satisfaction in making something--the pleasure of creating for the sake of it and enjoying the sense of accomplishment--but the work takes on greater meaning when let loose from the creator's grip. A film can take on plenty of meanings that the makers never intended. A scarf becomes more than just an item to keep a neck warm. Why then would a writer compose something and not let it see the light of day?

The obvious answer is that personal or private writing may be done to provide relief to the author. The person keeping a diary or journal--or a blog in this day and age--may put down their joys, fears, and aggravations with no design on anyone else ever seeing it. In this example, writing performs a valuable service for the writer and is not predicated on being available to an audience. There's nothing wrong with that.

Going back, though, the basis of most writing and creating is to have others consume it. This leads to the next question. How does the writer deal with being vulnerable to readers? The writer has to determine acceptable limits. Donna's student might do well to show her writing to trusted friends or teachers, people who can be honest but won't be bluntly dismissive. Once she's comfortable with that, the next step would be to show it to strangers or friends who might be more critical. Perhaps going the anonymous route might soften the blows.

Enough with the generalities, though. It's time for me to talk about my experiences. I did a lot of radio in college and have been on television for several years. I never went into it wanting to be a star, which is what seems to be the driving factor in many students I encounter. Language intrigues me, and I felt like I had something to say. I didn't know who would want to listen, but for me it was about expressing myself and reaching those who might appreciate my words.

That sounds all well and good, but it can be terrifying to put yourself out there like that. Metaphorically, I've fallen flat on my face on the air plenty of times. I've said stupid things and tripped over my tongue on more occasions that I can count. At no fault of my own I've been made to look foolish on television because the show's student crew is learning how to do everything as we go along. So there's some pride-swallowing that has to take place if you want others to evaluate or appreciate your work.

I will acknowledge that I can be very thinskinned, which may be why I'm often my worst critic. It's a deflecting technique. I've done work on TV and online that I know isn't my best and may barely be adequate, but you have to accept that you can't be perfect all the time. (Yeah, I don't always heed that advice.)

Although the paths are varied, almost everyone seeks interaction, the human connection that confirms we are worthy of the love and attention of others. Getting this demands being vulnerable. Hopefully the risk is rewarded.

I started this blog as a release valve of sorts. When I first learned to knit I didn't tell anyone. (Come to think of it, I'm still selective who I tell, and I'm even more judicious in giving out the blog's address.) I was so excited about what I was learning that I had to tell someone, even if it meant writing pseudo-anonymously for an unknown audience.

What I write here has limited appeal and lacks the rigor of "important" writing, but on a personal level it's some of the most valuable writing I've ever done. I couldn't say the same thing without my lovely readers. If I'd scratched down the last few months worth of entries in a private blog or journal, I never would have found this virtual knitting group, something that Jenn says she found here in her comment to this post.

I'm regularly surprised that anyone wants to read what I write here and amazed and honored by comments claiming my enthusiasm is inspirational. I couldn't and didn't anticipate that. Entering the knitting world was a risk, at least in my mind. Documenting my observations, successes, and failures may have been a bigger one. Who cares what I have to say? Except for any non-knitters who might be reading, I'd venture a guess that everyone else reading knows more about knitting than I do. Yet the risk has been paid back many times over with encouragement and friendship.

My advice to Donna's student: please show your writing. I can't promise it will be easy. Hearing criticisms of something in which you've invested a lot of time and energy never is. Maybe the readers won't understand it or like it, but if you pick the right people, they can help you improve. Their reactions may surprise you too. Writers can be the worst judges of their own work, so you will benefit from allowing some fresh eyes take a look at it. Chances are that the positives will outweigh the negatives when opening yourself up this way.

3 Comments:

At 12:07 AM, Blogger Donna said...

Wow. Thanks, SK! My student has said she's reading the advice, and I've pointed her here for more. I thank you on her behalf.

 
At 7:00 AM, Anonymous ruth said...

On of the nice things about blogging is the community it creates. I'll have to ponder the thoughts on writing a bit more.

 
At 10:04 AM, Blogger Jenn said...

Very nice. This post made me feel fuzzy inside for some reason...maybe it's the lovely mixture of knitting and writing, and an exploration of the creative process, which is always similar be it verbal or physical. Thanks for sharing!

 

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