Begs the question.

I want to know what you think [I fear this is going to wind up looking pathetic].

I don't have many rules here on the blog, but one of things I've said from the beginning is that it's my space, and I naturally have the time, so I'm always going to have the last word. Just one of those things I can exert some measure of control over, and it helps me feel comfortable here. Plus on the rare occasions crazies show up, I don't feel bad about moderating.

But here's a rare occasion - chance for anyone reading to chime in without me butting in, because I'm going to get my two cents in right off.

My last post I talked about struggling with some of my ideas that didn't really feel like they had any soul to me - just self-indulgent stuff, stuff without a reason, a message, or anything personal behind it. And if that is even self-indulgent, or if that's just fun.

Post prompted this comment from my good friend John [that's John Wiswell of "The Bathroom Monologues"], fresh off writing his novel, which I think deserves highlighted:

"The question of whether something is worthwhile if it's just self-indulgent will probably last another age, until we're all digital and things are decided by sub-protocols for us. But for now perhaps we can jerry-rig a second question onto it: is it okay to do something self-indulgent if you wouldn't do anything else with the time otherwise? Might be better to finish your own Hobo With A Shotgun by the end of the year rather than end the year with nothing finished. It's a conundrum that paralyzed me for a long time."

Now, first, let me just say "Hobo With A Shotgun" was excellent, and I'm sure John meant nothing by that comparison. Second, I personally don't have a ready answer to this question, and even John seems to only be leaning in a certain direction with his statement. About all I do feel comfortable saying on the subject, and I feel like I can say this quite adamantly, is that one of the reasons I write is to write things that I would want to read. And if I'm being perfectly honest with myself, I really just have no interest in reading heartless, soulless stories right now, and the thought of writing more of those, adding to the... pile, which I feel is kind of a fitting word, doesn't exactly spur me forward.

But that's all I've got. So, look, I know I don't have loads of traffic, but what I do have is fairly steady, and I'm just asking that if you read this post, no matter how you come to it, that you tell me what you think about the question. Especially if you're a writer, or an artist, but if you're not, if you're just a consumer of these kinds of things, I'd still like to hear your feelings, hypothetical, or actual, or otherwise. Feel free to comment anonymously. Feel free to write a lot, or a little. Just... chime in. I'd like to know what people think.

And make sure you visit "The Bathroom Monologues" in thanks to John, for asking the tough questions, or if you just want to read something good.

9 comments :: Begs the question.

  1. I have to argue with you about Hobo and a Shotgun. "Excellent", Randall? ;)

  2. Part of the problem is that writing talent isn't inherent in most people. For most of us, myself included, it requires practice. If the plotless, pointless, soulless thing is all you can write, you'll at least be exercising your craft. If you don't, then you might not have the ability necessary when you get the time and inspiration of the modern Hamlet. Bonus points when you realize midway in that you have too much integrity not to write write something with some plot, point and soul, and that there's some in this thing.

    Especially if Hobo With A Shotgun is excellent. Then just write your own one of those, Broseph.

  3. Well, I'm not a writer, really. I dabble, but I only write when I'm not drawing, and even then it's just to be creating something. But since you're asking, I'll share my thoughts- keep in mind that my thoughts are probably more based in my experiences as a visual artist than than in writing, but I feel they apply.

    Firstly, about Soul: Some pieces you see or read or watch or whatever, you immediately see the soul in. Some pieces have soul that screams out at everyone. But in many cases, frankly, I think most cases, pieces tend to have soul for specific people while others just don't get it. Some of your work that you feel doesn't have this spark might really speak to someone else out there. So discounting anything right off because you don't necessarily connect with it isn't automatically the right route.

    Second, how I find soul: Both in my visual arts world and in my writing world, I find the dark parts of my life. I have a novella, I guess you official, professional writers might call it that is essentially an autobiography of the darkest era of my life. I work on that sometimes when everything gets just a little too sunny. Just to keep me grounded. And in my art, I often make images that are, masked in my own symbolism, representations of darker moments in my life as well.

    Third, just make something: So maybe you don't see soul in your work. Maybe it's there and you just don't see it. Or maybe it's not there at all. Even if you wanted to only make things you enjoy reading, and you're not liking what you're making now, you can't stop. As creatives, we have good taste. And maybe that's why we hate so much of our own work. We know that we can do better and we want our work to really shine. But we have to work to get there. If that means you make stuff you don't like, it's okay. There's always someone who will like what you do. There's always someone who will hate it. And neither person matters, really. You just have to keep making it.


  4. My creative life has been fulfilling and helped supprot my family for nearly 35 years so I do ahve some experience. Here's my two cents, for what it's worth:

    Go to your studio and make stuff, whether it be writing, art, music, just go in there and produce whatever project currently inspires you.

    Which leads us to "Don't be afraid of failure." We all fail but sometimes we get it right and it feels so good.

    In conclusion, don't go burning all your earlier work (I did and the bonfire was ten feet high). Years later, you will be surprised at some of your earlier insights and excellence.

    You are a great young writer, Randall, so hang in there and get back to work. Best wishes.

  5. Yes. Yes it is.

    For one, we are not machines. 100% of our time does not have to be productive. It's taken me awhile to learn the difference between 'free time' and 'productive free time'- rather, time that I need to chill out and surf the internet, and time that I can use to be creative.

    For two, of that creative time, everything you do is practice. Some of it will be shit. Some of it will be awesome. If you don't actually put the time it, you won't have anything. I have a couple vanity projects lying around, uninteresting to anyone but me, and time spent on them is still of as much value as time spent on more prestigious projects.

    Everything we do has value.


  6. So, I will preface this comment by saying that I am exercising my self-indulgent side at this very moment. This post is an exercise in indulging myself because according to most standards of qualification, I'm grossly under-qualified to propose an answer. However, I hope that my decision to answer *anyway* is a statement of its own, over and above what I am actually about to say.

    What has been presupposed in your query is that there is some dichotomy between self-indulgence and that which is not self indulgence, with the former valenced negatively, at least somewhat, and the latter valenced positively, at least somewhat. I am going to horribly overstep the boundaries of good taste and suggest that what I think you are trying to figure out is a question that transcends this dichotomy - what is worth writing, when, and why? If the label "self indulgent" turns out not to be a bad thing or if some justification can be offered for the action of writing such that it isn't *merely* self indulgent, then this whole query breaks down, at least as far as I can tell.

    So, what is self indulgence? I honestly can't tell if the stuff you are labeling this way is both something you wouldn't want to read and also something you didn't enjoy writing much or one of the two or neither. This is totally setting aside the question of *craft* and *learning.* I'm going to throw it out there along with John that I think most writing, if nothing else, is a learning experience. But enough of that. If writing is writing just for the sake of putting words on paper and it brings no edification to you or anyone else, sure, I'm comfortable saying that that writing isn't worth doing.

    However, I don't think this kind of writing is actually self indulgent. When I hear self indulgent I think of something that brings pleasure to an agent. If an agent writes purely for their own pleasure, this seems like self indulgence. However, it might only be retroactively labeled self indulgent if no one else finds value in it. Someone who writes purely for their own pleasure, whose writing is found to be valuable by others, that kind of writing seems like it would not necessarily be labeled self indulgent, in spite of having almost identical grounds of creation as the first example. In this case, it doesn't seem like the label self indulgent in and of itself is a negative.

    Here is a further kicker: most writers I know are terribly self deprecating, and I'm not confident that they will actually know what other people will find meritorious in their work. That is, of course, totally aside from the fact that being very close to a project can make it hard to understand what others will think about it.

    FInally, I'm going to throw it out there that the experience of creating art is utterly different from the experience of consuming art. There are things in the former that will never be available to agents of the latter. So, there may well be value in artistic endeavors regardless of the evaluations of the consumers.

    In conclusion, if you feel compelled to write something, I feel like you should write it. I'm comfortable saying that pleasureless, learningless, meritless writing is out there somewhere. However, I think that it is relatively hard to accomplish. Just because you wouldn't want to consume it doesn't mean you are accomplishing nothing by writing it.

  7. What is self-indulgent to one person is a masterpiece to another. Judging the quality of one's own material is incredibly difficult.

    Write whatever comes out of you and later, and only in hindsight will you be able to see the body of work you've created as a whole, until then it is all unknown. I agree with so many of the previous comments, but the question of "what is self-indulgent?" is so important. We fall in love with our own work whether it started from a self-indulgent place or not, and others fall in love, or don't, but you have to work for you, otherwise there is no point.

    If you believe in your work (which not only do I think you do, but I think you should know that you ought to) then all of it matters.

  8. Is it really "soulless/heartless"? Is there really no message? I think that if you create something, not because of external pressure but because it's simply what you wanted to create in that moment, there IS a message, even if it feels "self-indulgent". The message could simply be, "This is where I am right now. This is what I want to be doing." And that's OK. You'll still learn from it--maybe you write it and think, "I started out certain that this was just a fun throwaway idea, but it actually feels really important now." Or maybe it WAS "just self-indulgent", and you wrote it, and now it's out of your system and you can move on. I feel like the candidness of just writing what you happen to write will provide something for you, whether in a new perspective or in the form of subtle meaning woven into the work itself.

  9. I just read a lot of comments that don't really relate to one another, but here's one more:

    Self-indulgence is not a scale I readily apply to anyone's writing (least of all my own) because I always considered all writing to be self-indulgent (not counting the kind you're doing for a paycheck, or to pass sophomore English). Writers write about things that have meaning to them that they want to write about, so this is technically self-indulgent, right? Or are you referring to whether or not other people are simply interested in the work? I'd say the latter question pertains a lot more to style, topic, and quality than to the existence of self-indulgence.