“To be an artist is to risk admitting that much of what is money, property, and prestige strikes you as just a little silly." "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron
Did you read that quote carefully? Read it again. I don't know about you, but I had an "ah ha" moment when I first came across it. This is not a book review. I have done that in an earlier posting. When I came across that particular statement, I knew it was important. It spoke to me in a way I needed to understand more deeply.
The quote forced me to admit I would dearly love to earn money and prestige as a writer. In addition, I recognized if I kept those things as my goals, I'd suffocate my creativity. If my eye was constantly on the prize of fame and fortune, then who was I writing for? Was I expressing who I am? Or was I writing to please someone else? By pursuing publisher and agents, was I forcing boundaries on what I created?
To find the answers, I had to delve into my original motivation for picking up a pencil. Like many of you, I started very young. It felt natural to write down my feelings and flights of imagination. It was like a toddler who babbles until she stumbles on to the right combination of sounds to make words. With these words, comes power. “Mommy stay”, “Daddy no”, or “I want.” Mommy and Daddy listened and reacted.
It was the same heady emotion when I completed those first badly done poems or stories. I remember the pure joy of holding those papers in my hands. Reading what I had created filled me surprise and satisfaction. Look at what I had done! I was a writer. When did I start questioning that? Who made me decide that I wasn’t a “real” writer? At what point, did I begin to believe that only a select few deserved that title?
Ms Cameron has a theory that the distinction between someone who writes and a “writer” begins in school. Academic assignments usually have strict guidelines for what is acceptable. When a student strays from the topic, red-penciled comments reprimands the budding writer. Correct grammar, sentence structure, and orderly paragraphs replace vivid descriptions and imaginative narratives. Students quickly learn higher grades are earned by paraphrasing facts than by original ideas.
Wanting to please and win praise, the child writer suppresses her innate desire to share her view of the world. She conforms to succeed in school. Comparing her writing to what is given high grades; the student begins to question the validity of her own creativity. Writers, she learns, are those chosen few who are published. Who am I to believe I’m a writer? Too often, self-doubt replaces the joy of putting words in beautiful disarray and discovery of a perfect reflection of her thoughts.
Even those of us who kept scratching away, we still retained the notion that we aren’t “real” writers. That prize is reserved for those who catch the eye of a publisher or agent. Only then, will we attain the elusive title “writer.” Until then, we are just amateurs. Take another look at that word, amateur. It’s from the Latin verb amare, “to love.” Isn’t that we all have, a love of the written word?
Just like the two year old who grabs on to each new word like a prize, shouldn’t we embrace this love? Why should we allow approval from the business of publishing to decide whether or not we are writers?
In my opinion, we shouldn’t. Each time I let the flow of creativity move my hand, I am a writer. I gift myself with the title artist. All the money, possessions, or publishing contracts in the world will not change that. If no one but me reads my work, that’s OK. I’m grabbing on to the joy of each word and celebrating the amateur in my soul.
Yes, Ms Cameron, to believe one has to earn money or fame to succeed is very silly. We are all artists.
ABOUT D. J. S. HARRINGTON
editor's note: All reviews are the sole opinion of the author. They are not an endorsement by Page & Spine. -NKW