Finding Closure

Sandy’s leftover clouds in Massachusetts
Find me on Instagram: dtgriffith

I finally found a way to close a story that has been alive and with me – in the developmental sense – for fifteen months. It’s the longest, most complex story I have ever written, still qualifying as a short story or novella, depending on who’s rules you follow. It really makes no difference to me. The challenge was whether I wanted the protagonist to redeem herself, to live to see another story, despite her horrific actions and questionable behavior. My final answer: a resounding yes.

It’s amazing how vested I became with the character. I’ve heard of authors who take on extraordinary experiences to get inside a character’s head and comprehend their wisdom. I wonder how often writers find themselves questioning the fate of their characters, do they decide to kill their darlings or give them a second chance?

Series obviously allow a main character to live on, otherwise they wouldn’t work, unless there is something out there I don’t know about. Whatever the case, an entire industry of fiction based franchises exists for this reason alone. I’m not necessarily out to accomplish this, however. But I wouldn’t complain if I found myself there one day. Perhaps I am nascent, having been out of the writing loop for several years to focus on my initial visual arts career and start a family. It doesn’t matter, in the grand scheme, as my rugged individualist nature leads me down the path of nonconformity.

So back to this idea of finding closure. It’s not true closure, per se, it’s a turning point. An opportunity to end one chapter to begin the next. I know, not a profound thought, but authentic nonetheless. Closure of a storyline is more important for the audience, no one likes to be strung along and left hanging as the story ends. I hate when this happens to me as a reader or movie watcher. Closure is an obligation to the reader, so the author’s career may live to see another day.

Here I am, running in circles with these recent blog posts, finding all roads lead to Rome, so to speak. Finding closure is in line with my self-exploration in fighting creative fear and writing for the reader. So, why I am writing this? Besides the catharsis it provides to get it all out there, I’m thinking maybe others will realize they are not along in their struggles as they endeavor to be masters of the craft. If nothing else, it’s a small contribution I am happy to offer.

How many clichés can you count in this post? It surprises me how easy they are to write when not thinking about it, but that’s for another blog entry another day.

Writing for the Reader in Me

I have heard countless times since returning to writing and pursuing my MFA degree “write for yourself.” Coming from the profession I have spent my whole career in, the target audience has always been the first influence on work I have created. So the reader, naturally, is someone I want to write for, never mind the fact that I don’t know many of my readers – if there are even many outside of this blog.

Every writer must have experienced the exhilaration of reading their own work after some time has passed at least once. It’s like a whole other person produced it; a deliberate subconscious separation to a completed story that allows the writer to read it for the first time. It’s a beautiful thing.

Since I don’t have a specified audience for fiction in this embryonic stage, I write about subjects that excite and interest me, maybe scare me, and often stuff I want to learn more about. For example, I have never worked in a circus or government office, so a character I create may be campaigning for a local office or a veteran sideshow performer.

Then there is that old adage “write what you know,” which I do fair amount of. Thing is, some of what I know isn’t necessarily based on first-hand experience, some of it is observational and intuitive. I was never a patient in a psychiatric hospital nor have I committed a murder, but pulling from what I know about these subjects based on research and observation, I can place my head in those spaces and become those flawed characters, in the figurative sense. I know how they think and feel, whether they are rational or irrational, what they base their decisions on. They become real live humans in my brain and on the page. This is probably normal for any writer, perhaps all creative-types; I don’t know, I never asked. Whatever the case, it’s part of my writer’s tool box.

So I write for myself now with the intention that other people of similar mind and dysfunction will appreciate it – maybe even love it! It’s working out so far with another short story this year due to publish soon in an anthology about demons.

Tell me about you. I’m always interested in learning how others think about these topics. Do you write or create for yourself or others? Do you become your characters who deviate widely from your real life?

Happy November!

Fighting Creative Fear

In my latest writing ventures, I find myself once again staring down the dead eyes of fear. The polar opposite to creativity when the so-called writer’s block has taken hold. Thing is, it’s not a block, it’s confronting the wide-open unknown. In one aspect, I am playing god with my characters in a fiction piece whose outcomes have been conceived and reconceived several times over while pondering the structure of a nonfiction book. I have confronted fear on numerous occasions, never submitting to it. Yet, I still find myself here.

Some days I wish my life were as simple as coming home from work, turning on the TV, and eventually going to bed. That simplicity would make me crazy. It’s an escapist thought to avoid this inevitable confrontation. Better thought: escape to Disney World for a day or a year. It’s easy to avoid fear, to let it win. And then what – spend a lifetime burying my head and cowering in the corner?

So, what’s the point of me writing this. I’m sure you’re wondering that as I am. To confront fear in the creative sense. To realize, to affirm, to share the lesson that creativity dies when fear fills the void. Embrace the unknown; mold it in your mind’s image. Create your world before bloodless zombies scare it out of you. Hold a pep rally, fall asleep at the bar, enter altered states of dementia; whatever motivates you. Just try not to harm anyone in the process. My point is – as I beat it into my own subconscious – you need to maintain control, kill some zombies, and spend a well-deserved week at Disney because those monstrous writing projects are complete and on their way to publication. Until then, never give in. Let creativity reign.

Art & Fear hit home

I wrote this response to Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland in January 2012 as part of my MFA Writing studies. Reading through it tonight I felt it was worth sharing on the blog. It’s quite autobiographical and contains a few lessons in self-awareness and self-acceptance that anyone in a creative field must work through and overcome.

* * * 

Art & Fear is a fascinating book touching on several points throughout my professional and personal life. It has stirred up many thoughts and emotions, evoking memories of my artistic roots and where I find myself now, questioning my seemingly unorthodox path from aspiring artist to corporate communicator.

I have always been involved in the arts. Before I was ten I had already decided I would be an artist when I grew up. By the time I was in college I already had several years experience in making art: played guitar in rock bands, painted with oils, wrote short stories, wrote and performed at poetry slams, and shot, developed, and printed black and white 35 mm film. These passionate endeavors led to my pursuit of a BFA as a Fine Art major with the predetermined career path to become a professional artist.

The harsh reality hit shortly after graduation. Within a few months it became clear that digital media was replacing the traditional methods at a rapid rate. The local freelance creative job market was intensely competitive. Having found I was adept at using Photoshop I launched my career as a digital photo-retoucher building off my traditional education in painting and photography. Not quite the fine artist pursuit, but it satisfied my creative urges and paid the bills. Digital graphic design soon followed as I continued to expand my capabilities, eventually leading to web design and development.

It was never easy; I found myself stopping some of my much beloved creative disciplines, particularly writing and music, to focus my energies on becoming the best digital artist possible with no formal training in new media. Fortunately, in recent years writing has made a surprising re-entry in my life, now playing a dominant part of my profession.

Early in the book, the authors of Art & Fear explain the grim reality that ninety-eight percent of graduates with art degrees are set up to fail. A lack of preparation and education on the business of artmaking tends to be a problem in the art schools – it certainly was when I was a student. Art is an accepted profession in our country, but not an accepted occupation. As Bayles and Orland vividly point out, “if ninety-eight percent of our medical students were no longer practicing medicine five years after graduation, there would be a Senate investigation.” (11). I know too many such art grads who have failed in their artistic careers soon after college. Talented individuals who did not know how to make a living as artists, who did not know the right people at the right times, who did not know how to apply their talents and skills to a tangential profession outside of their comfort zone. Looking back it seems I was one of the fortunate few.

So here I am fifteen years later, as a web designer, as a business writer, as a professional communicator, I have never once deviated from the creative path I set out on in my teens. But I cannot call myself an artist. I have not primed a hand-stretched canvas or pressed an intaglio print in several years, but the knowledge of color, texture, form, composition, and storytelling is carried with me in the communication work I produce today. Writing a strategy requires a great deal of creative thinking, in both the over-arching concepts and the tactics to implement it. Creating a website is a multidisciplinary task involving skills in writing, design, user experience, and technology. Why should these sorts of works disqualify me from being an artist? I never technically quit; I evolved.

However, Bayles and Orland do write, “For most artists, making good art depends upon making lots of art, and any device that carries the first brushstroke to the next blank canvas has tangible, practical value.” (61) Any device … has tangible, practical value caught my attention, as in the medium and method do not matter as long as the artistic intent is there. Have I been an artist all along?

I have found myself in this gray area throughout my career. When I am asked what I studied in school, my answer is naturally fine art, and I get the funny look. How did I get here from there? Did I throw away my education and sell out? Of course not, I applied everything from my fine arts education to become what I am today, whatever that label might be.

Ultimately, what this book instilled in me was self-acceptance. I understand where I came from is not so unique; many aspiring artists have traveled this path. I am getting over the fear of calling myself an artist, a writer, or any other creative title. As long as I am true to myself, in my corporate communication job, or in my revitalized interest of becoming a professional writer, no one can take that away from me despite his or her level of acceptance or understanding. And I can live with that.

Revision in Everyday Life

One of my Instagram shots.
the author of this flyer didn’t bother to proof read the headline.

It always surprises me how often I will come across writing in the professional and academic world that has not been thoroughly revised. I recall when I was in high school and college I had peers who were all about the one-and-done mentality, first draft purists, if you will, acting as if a second draft was infringing on their creative freedom and raw genius. I knew a girl who wrote poetry in high school, who would write poems on random sheets of paper in rough form and just leave them around the house to find and read at another time. I suggested to her that she collect the poems into a book and develop them – no, that would have ruined her creative process, I was told in some roundabout way.

A few weeks ago, I found myself explaining to my daughter, now in eighth grade, the importance of revision while helping her with homework. It’s a funny thing with her, she has raw writing talent, it appeared at a very young age, but she refuses to believe she is good at it and voices how she “hates it.” Thing is, after walking her through a few revision steps to help her with some creative and essay writing assignments for which revision was required, she was excited about the work she produced. She loved it as she read it aloud to my wife and me! Then she quickly moved on to some other non-related topic as thirteen-year-olds often do. I look forward to the day when she realizes her intrinsic talent in this area and enjoys it.

I’m not one to preach, but I will share this advice with anyone willing to listen. Revision is a strong tool not to be ignored, even if you are writing an email at work. Ever notice some emails from co-workers are written so well that they are short and to the point, you understand what the sender is communicating without effort and even feel that person’s mood come through? It’s a beautiful thing; anyone can pull it off with the slightest effort. Unfortunately, what I see more often than not are messages typed in a hurry filled with misspellings, texting-style shortcuts and ambiguity, sometimes responding with a single word answer to a series of questions with no clarity as to which question has been answered. This of course necessitates follow-up questions and turns into a lot of wasted back-and-forth time that could have been prevented by sending a clear message in the first place. The key: proofread what you wrote and revise as necessary, it doesn’t take long to do. And the larger scale the communication, the more critical this step becomes.

I know old habits dies hard, people are stuck in their ways. I get all that. But consider the simple tool of revision in your daily life as a way to help you get ahead and not waste your valuable time.