categories: Cocktail Hour
Is creativity its own reward? As someone who has written eight unpublished books or so, which amounts to about 16 years of life, this is not an academic question. Rather it’s a pressing one.
Let’s throw out the easy answers. Yes, a couple of these were “apprentice” works that later books built off of. But most were the real thing, from brainstorm to rough draft to many revisions over weeks and months and years. So, since they did not see the light of day, were they “failures”?
In a way, yes. For me writing is a drive for truth but it is also a drive to communicate, and even when that communication takes years of solitary work it is a final goal. This final goal was not realized in these stillborn books, and so yes, on that level they failed.
But they did give me something and that something has become the most reliable source of pleasure in my life. Let me give you an example. During the three weeks before Christmas I wrote a children’s book for my daughter. It was called “The Adventures of Frisbee Boy and Frisco,” and was a sort of post-apocalyptic fairy tale, like a mash up of Harry Potter and the The Road. Frisbee Boy roamed the futuristic wildlands armed only with his plastic discs, and was kept company by his talking dog Frisco.
For three weeks I got up early every day and lived in those wildlands, with their decayed golden arches and crumbling highways and the evil dogmen and water wolves. I wrote and wrote and wrote. It wasn’t a perfect creative stretch—there were distractions, there always are. But it was a pretty good one. I wrote for about three hours a day and afterward took walks (see the Bill’s last Bad advice–“The Circuit”) and even when I wasn’t consciously thinking about the book it was still kicking around my mind.
I finished before Christmas and had it bound and gave it to Hadley. I read it to her during our vacation on Cape Cod and she loved it. (I knew my audience and so filled the book with dogs.)
Obviously this book fulfilled the purpose of communication with at least an audience of one. But I’m a professional writer, and couldn’t let it go at that. So I sent it to a couple of agents to read. And they were unimpressed. Nope, they said, it’s no good. Next I felt my brain do what it does sometimes in the face of rejection; it starts to curl back on itself, fetaling into a ball. The advice I would give my students in this case would be to send it out to a dozen children’s book agents, but I don’t always follow my own advice. I began to categorize it as safely un-publishable, though it may not be that at all.
But let’s say it is, for the point of this discussion. Let’s say that’s the end of it. What do I “get” out of the book? Well, in this unusual case, I get a gift for my daughter, but, again for the sake of argument, let’s ignore that.
What I got, I would argue, were three great weeks. Organized, exciting, goal-driven creative weeks. Weeks that didn’t idle and drip. Weeks where the days were marshaled toward an exciting purpose. Whatever the fate of the book, it does nothing to change the joy of creation I felt while working on it.
This is my birthday week, my own personal week of creation, and it turns out that it coincides with a week off from school. As my gift to myself I’m tearing into a new project, a project that may or may not see the light of day in the future. Of course I hope it does see the light of day, that is I hope it serves the higher function of communication. But even if it doesn’t I’m not going to stop. As anyone who creates regularly knows, creation provides its own high. And I’m an addict. An addict who doesn’t plan on quitting any time soon.