Yesterday, while I was spooning down a trifecta of Tutti Frutti frozen yogurt — honey, cherry almond, and vanilla custard — I was secretly fantasizing about killing someone. I’d been dishing to my pal J about the latest novel I’m reading and loving. It’s a Y.A. fantasy that my adult daughter wrote.
J was like, “Oh wow, your daughter wrote a novel? What’s it about?”
I’d barely gotten three sentences out when he started laughing. “Another vampire novel?”
Maybe I’d been inspired by one of the characters in the novel, but I almost leapt across the table and tore his throat out with my teeth.
I suppose taking pity on the guy was the right move, considering a) children at nearby tables would have been forever scarred by a fro-yo blood-bath and b) the near-victim knows nothing about the creative process– neither the challenges nor the sacrifices (nor that he was almost one of them).
Other than kicking my powers of creative visualization into high gear and giving me an opportunity to exercise my impulse control, my friend also offered me an opportunity to reflect on some important truths about the creative life:
- People are going to mock and criticize because they are cowards themselves. It makes them feel superior and gives them a sense of safety. But it’s actually keeping them from taking risks and keeping them stuck, which is their problem. Not yours or mine. We know our creative baby (or grandbaby) may be fugly but we’re gonna love it anyway. Because it’s ours, and it’s a gift we appreciate because it teaches us about ourselves and the world. Like, how about all that badass discipline it takes to finish something as huge as a novel? How about the vision? The courage to move forward when you don’t know where something is going? These are things to celebrate. Creative risks are moments to celebrate precisely because of the cowardly critics. So maybe on a day when I’m feeling particularly charitable I will remember to thank the person or people laughing at our art for making us all the more heroic in our creative actions.
- It has all been done before. Yup. Lots of vampire novels have been written. And that’s because people like to read them. Duh. Fantasy fiction fans are hungry like a blood-starved vampire for another good book to sink their fangs into. So let’s not worry too much if our poem sounds a lot like a Rumi poem or if our novel isn’t novel enough. If we are one among many, that sounds a lot like an audience to me. Carry on.
- An entirely valid approach to creativity is imitation. It’s not only the highest form of flattery, it’s also highly instructive. We learn a lot by imitating those we admire. In fact, I’ve watched a painter friend reproduce Van Gogh’s technique, learning from the master though separated by centuries. I’ve got musician friends who swear by learning cover songs for similar reasons: they learn technique and structure as they play songs others have written. I’ll also add that lots of times accomplished musicians pay homage to those they admire by adding a cover to their set list. I saw Panic at the Disco cover Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” this summer and I was blown away. It was done with passion and precision, and no one was laughing that it had been done before.