Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Carpe Annum--Seize the Year! We Can All Be Astonishing

Today's post began as a Facebook status update. I wrote it earlier this week but I can't say why I wrote it. Meaning, I can't point to a particular event or circumstance that served as a catalyst for it. Sometimes life offers the pinprick of inspiration for such things (in novel writing we call it the inciting incident), but I'm hard pressed to come up with one for these thoughts. Probably because, much as we'd like it to, life doesn't work the way fiction does. Our cause and effect are often too far apart for us to clearly see them as a pair. (The job of the novelist is to bring personal cause and effect close enough together on the page for the reader to see, understand that this event brought about that event, and allow enough room for the reader to ponder how her past plays out in her present.)

Here's the status update I wrote on Facebook:
"The next time I read a book I think is badly written, or not up to my standard, or sags in the middle, or whatever, I'm going to remind myself that what I'm reading is a person's attempt to create something. And that act of creation, that attempt alone is astonishing. 
We've left ourselves in a world that will tear apart anything that smells of novice. But we've got it wrong. We need more cheering sections and less critics. We need more pom-poms and less pomp.
I need to be that fanatic encourager, for the sake of the art, yes, but more for my own sake. When I cheer for others, the clouds break above my head and I can begin to see the world as limitless. I begin to see that I too can dare to create something. That we can all be astonishing."

The comments under the update were as interesting as I could have hoped for. People were quick to separate constructive critique (which we strongly believe in) from criticism--the kind of negative review that is all scathe and no insight--which is an important distinction. I was gratified to read the conversations that took place around this topic (I often lose control of my FB wall and it is taken over by people who have conversations with each other. I enjoy this very much). 

The main point, however, is the emphasis on creation. The act of creating is, to many artists, sacred. A kind of sanctified place, if not utterly holy at least butting up against the edge of it. We employ this perspective frequently when we ourselves are writing--creating--and later when we feel the burn once the book is handed over to an editor, knowing it will not be spared the knife. I love everything about these moments of creation, editing--remodelling, recreating--precisely because I feel apart of something larger than myself.

Too often, I forget the cosmic-closeness feeling when I pick up someone else's novel. I ignore the fact that this writer too fell into the pool of creativity and taught herself to swim. Instead, I can be quick to criticize her stroke. I forgive my own flailing, my own ragged gasps as I nearly drowned in the eddy of hopeful creation, yet I press the other writer to impress me a deftness I myself do not possess.

And that is where my Carpe Annum lies. Part of how I plan to seize 2013 and make it my own is to promise myself that I will never forget the wonder, the astonishment of the creative act no matter who is creating. I love and respect story. That means, by extension, I love and respect those who work to create story. 

Love and respect. We can all be astonishing.

That's my Carpe Annum promise.

Tell us how you plan to Carpe Annum.


Susie Finkbeiner said...

Your post from the other day stuck with me for a long time. I thought about it as I scrubbed dishes and switched loads of laundry and stirred the soup.

I am in the midst of promoting novel 1 and writing novel 2. It is a surreal experience. I fully realize that not everyone will enjoy my writing. And that I'm not the best writer in the whole world. But I can't let that restrain me. I have stories to tell.

Part of my Carpe Annum is to hush the negative words that would force me to give up...and to listen to the words (both hard to hear and affirming) to spur me on.

Thank you for this post, Bonnie.

Bonnie Grove said...

Susie: You're very welcome.

Funny thing about those negative words that crowd out creative thought--they seems to multiply the longer one remains in publishing. They actually get bigger, scarier. The way people react to your work becomes an expectation rather than a revelation.

What a strange privilege to be a writer.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Susie, you've made a wise choice. Hush the negative words and never give up. I'm nearly through with Paint Chips, and am really enjoying your story.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Strange, indeed, Bonnie. But wonderful, too.

Sharon, thank you for that encouragement. It moved me to tears, actually.

Anonymous said...

I am going with Susie on my Carpe Annum...I have stories to tell and refuse to be restrained by negative voices, including the one coming from myself. Since when did I start listening to those voices? This is the year to listen to God's still small voice instead!

Jennifer Major said...

How will I seize my year?
Well, I want to write the best that I can, query and TRY to remember not to open a box of Weepies whenever the track changes point something out.

I want to learn and grow, even at the young age of 49 8/12ths.

I want to pay homage to the real people who lived when and where my story began.

I want to do my best and honour my King. And that means not listening to that inner schoolyard bully and reminding myself that I'm to die for.

Megan Sayer said...

Brilliant Bonnie, brilliant.

I'm wondering whether this culture of criticism that's developed is due in part to the movie industry. Movies are the creative work of so many people, and we watch so many of them and we read so many reviews of them, and we learn quite early on how to analyse them and immerse ourselves in the language of criticism. We then feel it appropriate to transfer that knowledge to books...I don't know if people ever pulled books apart the way they do now years ago. I've been really guilty of it. The more you do the more you realise what a hard and lonely process it is, I think. And the more you realise that there isn't an enormous creative team making executive decisions - for the most part it is the author, even behind the fabulous glossy cover - flailing in fear in their study or in some crowded coffee shop, just trying to get it right.
But now I'm just echoing what you said. Because you're right.

Thanks for saying it. It's so very, very important.

Bonnie Grove said...

Vonildawrites: The inner voice. At once master and slave to the muse. Sometimes my inner voice is that of a childhood friend who later turned on me. Sometimes it's that of my former editor who loved me and taught me with kindness. Sometimes its a voice of darkness. Other times light speaks and everything I think about is bathed in brilliance.

We are strange creatures, aren't we? I suppose that's what keeps us interested and interesting.

Bonnie Grove said...

Jennifer: I don't think the box of Weepies need be despised. It's fine to cry your head off when you first read the edits. The trick is to recover quickly and carry on clear-eyed. But have a weep first. Who else will mourn those words? Someone should cry; they were good words!

Repeat after me: I love myself, I think I'm grand and when I sleep, I hold my hand.

Megan: I have book reviews sent to my email (not for my stuff) and I'm floored how weird the reviews are. Readers using writer speak to explain how a novel failed to live up to an arbitrary expectation. One read that the reader hoped that particular author would "try harder" next time. Some of these reviews have stopped reviewing books and have moved into the territory of criticizing writers.

Megan Sayer said...

This is one reason I find it very hard to review books any more. I have many, many opinions but often don't know what to say.

Jennifer Major said...

Thank you Bonnie, I never thought of it as mourning my words. And they are good words!!
That line is cute. Thanks.

Cherry Odelberg said...

First I thought Susie said it best and I need not write anything, "hush the negative words that would force me to give up...and to listen to the words (both hard to hear and affirming) to spur me on. " Then, I read on down the comments and everyone had something I need to hear.
Ah, "Who else will mourn those words? Someone should cry; they were good words!"

Now I know why black is my favorite color. Yes, I am often in mourning.

Cherry Odelberg said...

And Megan, what a great insight with regard to story and cinematography! Technological advancements in recording have raised the bar on live vocal and piano performance. Why not the same for literature? Some respected classics did not have to take the heat and comparison we are now subject to.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

To an unpublished author or unfamous artist of any kind I forward my deepest and heartiest encouragement. All criticism is of the constructive, 'how about this' kind.
Of a published author or recognised artist I do expect more. There has to be a place I can go to expect excellence. The web is what happens when anybody's mother's Joe is given free reign.
Thank you, Bonnie, for the reminder that "more" and "excellence" are relative (kissing cousins) to that 'mother's Joe' - a human measurement. The more grace I extend to the author the brighter he/she will shine.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

As for the authors of 'classics' they were subject to rigours in childhood we in North America don't have today. 1. Greek and Latin in the classroom. 2 The reading aloud of 'classics' in the family (in place of TV) that were far above their childish comprehension but gave them the rhythm and rhyme of the language. Death harvested more freely, more nearly. Illness and poverty lived more intimately. Joy was treasured and cultivated and not exchanged for expected 'happiness'.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Love your perspective on this, Bonnie. I'm with you - the more I write (and the more I realise how very far I fall short of the standard I expect from others) the more grace I have to give.

I've always been quite opinionated and critical of others' work, inside my own head. But I don't write bad reviews. I go by the motto, "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." Some criticism is probably a very good thing, because if we're constantly patting each other on the back and stroking each others' egos the result is a whole lot of big heads and no growth. Sometimes I think this happens a little too much in the CBA, which is such an insular community that no one wants to offend anyone else.

But there will always be nay-sayers, and in the final estimation, I'd rather be on the side of encouraging art and creative effort instead of shooting people down, when goodness knows I couldn't do any better.

Bonnie Grove said...

Karen: I agree we shouldn't become Pollyannas all hand clapping and feigning awe of work that is merely ordinary, or for the sake of friendship (though, friendship seems to me to be worth far more than most other creative acts).
I focus my attention, instead, on the sheer magnitude of creation and creating and join other artists in awe, not of work produced necessarily, but of the fact that the attempt was made in the first place.
If we think about the places we frequent in life, work, school, perhaps church, or social clubs and if we took a poll of the populations in those places, if we asked, "How many of you will stand up with me now, engage in a creative act that we will then turn around a present to the world in the most public manner possible?" What sort of response would you get? Would one person stand with you? You'd be fortunate if one did.
The world is afraid.
The people too fraught with daily living with make any serious consideration toward contributing to creative pursuit.
To most creative pursuit is a product to be consumed and forgotten.
If someone in the room has the courage to stand up with me and say, Yeah, I'll go that course. I'll create, then share it with the world, I want to support that courage.
Some will be better than others, but all deserve respect for trying.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Agreed, Bonnie, and very well said. In the past I tended to look down my nose a bit at things like category romance. My tastes haven't changed, and I think the ability to discern average (or awful) literature from good literature is a precursor to producing one's own best work.

But having said that, even if I still think a book is corny or badly written, I know how much work and effort goes into any work of creation, including a category romance. I have nothing but respect for the author's hard work, and I truly believe the majority of authors are doing their utmost best with the skills God gave them. None of us earned the gifts we were given. We're only responsible for developing them to their fullest extent. To have a book published in any genre or category is a huge achievement.