Tag Archives: goals

Purpose vs Intention & Creativity

The other day I was having an Issue with the project I was working on from last time, so I emailed a jpeg to my Clayville California Polymer Clay Artists Guild and asked for advice. The first part of the response that I got startled me:  “What is the purpose of your project; it makes a difference.” 

I was stuck at that word purpose. What purpose did I have when I sat down to work with the clay? I rarely set out with a purpose. And why should it make a difference? 

Anyone who has sat in my writing classes or been coached by me knows that I am forever haranguing them that Purpose is the underpinning of all that goes into making a piece of writing successful. So why hadn’t that occurred to me as necessarily transferable to a piece of art? The answer to that is, I realize, why my students and clients so often had trouble with the concept of Purpose. It’s the wrong word. 

Purpose implies product. Product implies a plan and the expectation of succeeding at that plan. But that mindset can often be antithetical to both writing and the making of art as it sometimes works to eliminate discovery, happenstance, sheer creativity.  No, the right word is not Purpose; it’s Intention. Intention is an aim, a direction, a willingness to explore.

Pursuing a Purpose often leads to an entreprenurial urge, and I’ve seen the entrepreneurial urge suck the life out of writers. That’s exactly what happened to me in my early days of my taking up polymer clay as a medium. I was all about Product. I was Creating Jewelry To Sell. How else could I justify the time and expense I was putting into the stuff? Like an assembly line worker, I needed to know that my efforts validated the cost. Except–it didn’t take long before I was face to face with the harsh reality that no one wanted to buy my work. Without that Purpose, what was the point?

That turned me deeper into exploration. So maybe it wasn’t Purpose I was missing so much as Intention. I moved away from the How To’s for creating jewelry and into just looking at, seeing, and wondering about the work of those who are artists first and craftspeople second. Why were they doing what they did? Where did their creative impulse come from?

That has led me to question my response to art and the way it may or may not impact on the work I do. Basically, then, I’m trying to get a bead on myself as a receiver and producer. What do I like? Why? What turns me off? Why? I’m looking at everything visual through those lenses, and trying to understand myself. So the answer to the Guild’s question “what was the purpose of the project” is, my intention is experimentation. 

Specifically, I’m drawn to birdseye views of nature, and the way they manifest as geometric patterning. When I saw that the piece I was working on last week seemed to be turning into some sort of nature scene, I decided I would try to create the foliage using mini-circles of clay. Sort of a pointillist technique. I experimented with using old canes and veneers and tried some of the new texture techniques I’ve learned, most recently from Sage Bray’s Virtual Art Box.

I had fun; I increased my understanding and ability to do more with polymer clay. I did not create a work worthy of anything but my own admiration. Okay, and maybe yours. There are flaws galore in the piece, but I did achieve my intention. Even if I didn’t know it until after I had to think about it long and hard. 

When Do I Get To Call Myself A Writer?

Okay, so the little Q&A is obviously somewhat tongue in cheek. But–this is an issue that I hear a lot from writers I work with. Hell, it’s an issue that I dealt with way back when I started my career. I definitely felt that calling myself a writer was a privilege earned. But what was the privilege that earned it? Hence, the four points of the Q&A above. As I recall, however, the whole issue for me was resolved when I applied for a new passport and had to fill in the blank marked “Occupation.” Since my days pretty much consisted of writing, I guess I felt the truth trumped whether or not I had earned the privilege.

The fact that this is an issue for others has something to do with the ambivalent view the outside world has of writers. We do something most people can’t imagine doing. Yet, anyone who is capable of holding pencil or tapping a keyboard can do it. It doesn’t require any education, even if the MFA Writing Programs would have you think so. We tell secrets; we make our version of the story stick; and oh, it doesn’t pay very much, if at all.

In fact, of all the things that make people disparage writers, it’s the money thing. As I wrote the other day in What Real Writers Know, we are a culture that values product over process. The worth of a particular product is determined by how much money it has made. For those not part of our world, the financial end of the writer’s life–who pays us, why they pay us, how much they pay us–is very murky.  And for many, if they can’t put a dollar value to an activity, then it has no value. 

The other day on a Facebook writers group that I belong to, this was part of a long conversation: how do you deal with family and friends who question your being a writer? There were a lot of opinions that ran the range from “Fuck anyone who questions you” to “Do your writing in secret.” Both responses seem extreme to me. The middle ground–have confidence in yourself without needing external approval–strikes me as therapeutically correct, but, damn, hard for a person with a normal amount of self-esteem to do.

Valuing yourself and valuing your writing, no matter what–is it really so hard to do? What do you think?

 

Morning Pages: How do they work for you?

In a comment last week, I responded to Laura of Wordgrrls suggestion about doing Morning Pages with one of my quip-like responses: “I had done MPs for ages (okay, not really, but it’s so cutely alliterative) and was quite successful then. At least doing the Morning Pages; I’m not sure what the rest of my productivity was.”

Every morning, I would sit outside in my garden, with my coffee and cigarettes, and write my three pages in longhand. I amassed a notebook full, and much of it was devoted to a story I had been chewing over for a while based on my version of the life of my mother-in-law. We’re talking Grapes of Wrath with a feminist twist.  I still have that notebook. I still think the story is worth telling. I don’t do Morning Pages anymore.

For one, I no longer have that peaceful brick-walled garden, and I no longer smoke. For those of you who have never smoked, you can’t imagine how those of us who were smokers found our writing process intwined with cigarettes.

So that time and place in my life is over, and with it seems to have gone the urge to do daily Morning Pages. Now I do free-writing of the Morning Pages-type when I’m trying to  dig down as far as I can go into my thoughts and feelings. I just write and write whatever without judgement until…

I’m not sure what follows the until: I get tired…hungry…bored. Or maybe until I’ve gone as far as I can with the topic. Then, whether my three pages are done or not, I start wanting to shape the thing I’m writing and make it presentable for publication.

The unconscious writer leaves home and the editor takes over. I’d like to think the editor is a consequence of forty years of shaping words professionally. That’s part of it; the other part, I think, is that the editor is more concerned with the turn of a phrase or an interesting story line than the utter truth of the moment. 

I have all sorts of responses to myself here. The part of writing that is fun for me has to do with putting the words together that speak the thoughts intended. However, the me who has a grad degree in psych says, “hmmmm, what were you actually working on when the editor takes over? Is it something that you’re uncomfortable getting into?” That’s the me that understands there is a psychodynamic of writing, and I best be aware of it if I want to do more than just go along to get along.

#1 Rule To Better Writing: Learn to Love Your Process

How do you actually do this thing called writing? What are the habits, quirks, must haves and cannot do’s that are an essential part of your productivity as a writer? And do you allow yourself to have them? Or do you reject them as Not Right?

Interviews with successful writers almost always include some version of the question: how do you write?  People make careers (if not fortunes) out of parsing their particular process and then spinning it into a formula.  

However, the fact is that the writing process is not a One Size Fits All.  Do you get up early? Or stay up late? Do you write in huge chunks of time? Or spit it out paragraph by paragraph?  Are you an outline person or do you just follow your inner guide?  Do you write in pencil? Pen? Computer? Yellow pad? Loose leaf? Napkins?

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