When one begins to entertain the idea of being a writer, they may shuffle through their choices. Novelists can be long-winded but include intricate plots, detailed settings, and character development. Nonfiction writers bring a mountain of information from their field and distill it down to highlights and how-to’s. Poets have it easier, since grammar rules can be gleefully ignored, and more difficult because they need to be succinct as every syllable counts. There are some writers who choose their genre, and there are others who believe that the type of writing they do chooses them. Whichever way it works for you, Natalie Goldberg, author of Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life, has lots of advice about writing practice.
“A novel makes you behave. There are constrictions. I think of poetry as the final freedom. Each poem is its own universe, but it, too, is a hard freedom…Poetry is about the divine; a novel is about work and learning to behave.” Because I write both novels and poems, I think both have constrictions and both have freedoms. There are structures for both. The hero’s journey, engaging the reader, giving details yet leaving enough out that the reader can “fill in the blanks”, character arcs, and having a beginning, middle, and end are all part of fiction prose. There are just as many constraints in poetry. The number of forms is immense. A luxury a novelist has is that they can take as many pages as necessary to say what they need to say. A poet doesn’t, epic poems aside. I prefer to think of writing, any genre, as freeing. There are things we learn as creatives when we follow the rules and remain inside the lines, and there are uncharted territories we explore when those lines bend and fade.
One activity I do when I feel stuck in my novel writing is to write a poem, or paint with watercolors, or cook something different. It’s still creative, but it breaks me out of a rut and often offers an insight to my Muse that I wasn’t aware of before. Goldberg offers, “It is good to try different things, but eventually we must settle on one thing and commit ourselves. Otherwise we are drifting and there is no peace. To stay with one thing gives us an opportunity to penetrate our lives and be free.” The more novels one writes, the better one gets at it. The more poetry one studies and writes, the more ease they develop with language and ideas. We can play around with other mediums of expression, but to get to the point of ease and peace we must at least consider settling on one. That allows us to hone our skills, spend the time and effort needed to know ourselves and our art.
In this era of technology and information, monkey mind rules. “Clarity and perseverance are difficult in American society because [of] the basis of capitalism…The American economic system feeds monkey mind. We stimulate monkey mind when we swing from one preoccupation to the next.” In a society where the goal is often bigger, better, faster, more, creativity can be set aside. It’s not bad or good, it just is. For everyone who creates, there must be a priority to do so. With that importance, comes the weeding out of what gets in the way, what distracts the artist from the art. Unless we make art a priority in our lives, the Muse finds somewhere else to play and leaves us to our monkey mind.
However creativity comes to us, Goldberg suggests, “You have to let writing eat your life and follow it where it takes you. You fit into it; it doesn’t fit neatly into your life. It makes you wild…Let yourself burn, let yourself want something bad. It’s a life force…Don’t let anyone take it away.” For those who hear the Muse and allow themselves the wild of creating, the peace of art, the knowing of themselves, and the love of their medium, there is no other choice. No judgement if one decides to set down their art and engage in something else, whether it’s a distraction or another passion. But if it’s creativity that we allow to “eat our life”, then we can step out of the monkey mind, who seeks external gratification, and instead settle on peace and freedom with the wild mind.
To see the freedom in novels and poetry that my wild mind has given me, visit my website: www.myjoyenterprises.com
What do you write? How have you allowed creativity to “eat your life”?