the art of starvation





I've had the books shoved at me before-- the thick ones with the feverishly worn bindings and the highlighter marks and the scribbles all on the inside. The books that one who writes will naturally encounter, the ones that are usually bestowed with the best of intentions from a friend or loved one who also happens to harbor an interest for the craft of messing around with words. I can't even recall how many times I've encountered the dreaded books-- I've lost count. Story-lining, structuring, character formulation, dialogue, you name the topic and I bet you a thousand bucks there's a book on it, drawn up and published especially for writers.

These books, no matter how well their intentions are, can be (and often are) deadly to the writer's spirit.

I guess I won't tip-toe around it-- this is going to be a controversial idea for those of us who are addicted to advice, critique groups, how-to books, and perhaps even current literature.

I was recently advised to enter a course of study in writing, and urged to devour a stack of books on the topics of characters, dialogue, world-building, scene execution, etc. I was told that these books were amazing-- that I should read them, treasure them and hang on their every word-- and when I was done with those, that I should then read literature by a few particular authors and get a really good feel for their writing style so that I could "learn" from it.

I was also recently advised, by several individuals and editors not to change anything I was going with my writing, to not over-think it and to just enjoy what I was doing, that my style was fresh and unlike anything they'd seen before.

Change it.
Don't change it.

If you're a writer and you plan on eventually falling in love with a certain story, scribbling it into existence and getting it published, let me assure you that you will find yourself absolutely surrounded by this crap. You'll be drowning in it.

And I call it "crap" because it is.

Writing is an overlooked art-- it's the shy, wordy cousin of painting. That is literally the single most important thing you will ever learn as a writer-- it must be sunken deep within one's brain and fastened there tightly. You will constantly find people trying hard to pry it up, getting bits of your brain stuck under their overgrown fingernails in the process, no doubt.

Writing is an art. There is no right or wrong way to do art. If your art is story-telling, you should understand that story-telling is something that is unique to the individual, and should never come out the same way for any two people. Communicating something that God put within your heart is only something you can do. No one can explain how you should do this, because no one knows how you feel but you-- no one understands it but you.

There is no one formula for story. No one can tell you how to "do" story. Because, like children, every story is different. There is no magic bullet, there is no set of instructions. There is no one way to make a character or invent a situation for that character, everything is different and everything will always be different.

So to take something as static as a book or a blog or an opinion and attempt to write from that departure point is futile. Books and opinions and advice and literature, when misused, can turn us into great, mindless recycling bins. We read, we study-- we reuse the idea in our own writing. We see that so-and-so uses this word fairly often, so we start using that word, (this is often subconscious), and suddenly our writings have become less like our own and more like bits and pieces of everyone else's work with the ghost of our own style mixed in there somewhere. How do I know this? Because I've been there.

Now, the second most important thing you will ever learn about writing:

it's like surfing.

Yep. I literally just made that connection. You know you love me.

I make this connection because of something pro surfer David Rastovich (Rasta) said in an Inspiration and Insights piece for Sanuk:

"It's fun and there's no rules. No one can tell you how to surf, no one can tell you what to ride, no one can tell you what kind of waves you should like and where to go surf-- and if anyone does you just tell them to beat it. No one has any say over anyone else's experience in surfing. And that's awesome."

Writing is like surfing.
Writing is an art.

I didn't read those books-- the thick ones with the dust and the pen scribbling all over the pages inside. I didn't read them because sometimes it's unspeakably good to get away from the people and the opinions and the advice and the critiques and the other stories and voices and just... breathe in and out. And be quiet. And listen. And let my own voice and ideas burn through my fingers.

Sometimes it's good to starve yourself.

This can be hard if your not used to it-- really hard. But it's worth it because hearing your own voice by itself, as a unique, stand-alone individual is a precious thing that not many people get to experience. This is mainly because the process can be frightening-- because suddenly you're not watching all the other lanes, and you're not keeping track of what's in and out, but really this is the only way I know how to create original material. Pulling back, closing my eyes, letting God speak to me and guide me and play with me-- that's the only way I know how to create stories. That's the only way that's fun for me.

Whenever people ask me for writing advice I tell them to find that thing that they love-- that style, that vibe, whatever it is-- find that. And write that. Because if that brings you true joy, that's the thing you should be writing about. Don't write to impress or to make a point-- write because it's freaking fun. Write because you love it. Who cares what anyone says?

You are the only one who can do that story. Because that story is yours.

Wang Yani did this with her paintings, when she was four. She had no professional training, no art lessons and no advice-- her father even went so far as to forbid it.

By the time she was fourteen she had her own exhibit in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution, one of the paintings included being one that she had created when she was three, entitled "kitty".

When asked about how she did what she did (which was blowing people's minds, apparently) she said:

When you pick up a brush, don’t ever ask anyone for help. Because the most wonderful thing about painting is being left alone with your own imagination. I do not paint to get praise from others, but to play a game of endless joy.

...Writing is like painting.
Writing is like surfing.

Writing is an art.

No one can make your art but you,
no one can paint your paintings but you,
no one can surf your waves but you.

The best writing advice I've ever received can be summed up in one word and one word only:

Starve.

Pull back, stop listening, stop struggling and just... starve.

Let everything else just melt away-- let yourself forget it. Turn yourself loose and allow God's hands to dig in deep-- he knows where all the original stuff is. He made it in you.

The funny thing about starving is that you never actually do starve. Letting go doesn't always mean that you fall. I've found true nourishment for my art and my story and my craft through starvation, and I've often discovered better things by letting go.

If they don't like it? Who cares. If they don't publish it? Again-- who cares. Sometimes we put priorities on things that should be as far from that word as possible. If you're a writer or a surfer or a painter or a story-maker-uper, you should do what you do because you love it.

That's why I write. That's why I don't care what other people say. That's why I don't even care if I get published.

Because beyond the thing itself is a deeper thing-- past the art there's passion and there's joy and there's this desire to create.

And that's there because God's playing with us. God likes talking to us and holding us and doing stuff with us and creating with us.

Blessed are the hungry.
They'll be filled.

That's why I do what I do.





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2 people commented on this post.

  1. Katie.

    I am overloading. I can't even speak, hardly.

    This is amazing. This is truth written beautifully. This is what so many need to hear.

    There is so many sentences, poetic turns in this post that I'm drowning in them. I can hardly pick one of my favorites.

    "Letting go doesn't always mean that you fall."

    "And let my own voice and ideas burn through my fingers."
    "Now, the second most important thing you will ever learn about writing:

    it's like surfing.

    Yep. I literally just made that connection."

    Yes, and that last part made me so happy. It's so good to have a soul sister.

    I know what you mean. I feel that even the few people who remote understand why I write (and that I'm not just a weird nerd who wants to be an english teacher when I grow up), are always warning me on how I should write and how I should not. A lady at the library told me a horror story about how she read a "how to write" book and never could finish her novel, which made me run away from all how to books for a long while. I have people tell me how to books I must read.

    But the voice that you must listen to is the one in you. And the beautiful thing about it, is that it never leaves us, no matter how much we can drown it with other opinions, if we starve ourselves, it's still there waiting to be heard.
    I don't think other opinions are bad, they help us improve, but in the end we must just come back to the voice God placed in us.

    Thank you for the wonderful post. I loved it SO much.

    Love you, girl,
    Rebekah

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  2. "But the voice that you must listen to is the one in you. And the beautiful thing about it, is that it never leaves us, no matter how much we can drown it with other opinions, if we starve ourselves, it's still there waiting to be heard.
    I don't think other opinions are bad, they help us improve, but in the end we must just come back to the voice God placed in us." <--- I SOOOO agree! Right on, sister!

    I am so blessed that you liked the post Rebekah! Your sweet, kind words have totally made my day! & Yes,I totally agree that it is so good to have a soul sister. *hugs* Love you too, gurl! Keep on writing the awesome things you write, you're such a talented writer!

    ReplyDelete

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