Pay Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Post Date: December 29th, 2011
Image found here

Some make the argument that good writers should “make it look easy.” In other words, don’t carp about all the hard work it took to get the manuscript in the gorgeous shape it now boasts. Don’t ever show the seamy underbelly of revisions, cross-outs, ripped cuticles, and gray hair. Your readers don’t really need to see all that.

I disagree. If people think your art is magic (muse-driven and easily wrought) then they don’t get art, at all. At certain times and places–your book signing, on your web site–I think it’s fair to showcase the drafts that got away, the revisions that got dumped, and the hours it took to get the glossy draft your readers now enjoy. Pull back the curtain on the perfect and say, “There’s a bit of slime back here…”

If audiences don’t know the truth, they are likely to think, as I’ve heard too often in reference to the art of teaching: “Hell, anyone can do it!” They may well decide it’s not worth paying the price. Hey, can you spot me a copy of your book/CD…can you get me a free ticket to the show?


Never mind the ego that seems to have taken many Americans prisoner in this age of self-publishing: I’m going to be the next J.K. Rowling/John Grisham/Toni Morrison/Stephen King/Malcolm Gladwell! Check out my first draft! 

The man behind the curtain–the neurotic artist full of woes and struggles, never mind a history of disappointment–that man matters very much.

This said, I want to make the argument that writers and other independent artists (I would place painters and other visual artists in this category) have it easier than those who need others to make art. The independence is all.  Why? Because you have no one but yourself to blame. Being married to a musician gives me this perspective, as does being the sister of an actress/producer. The group arts are a lot harder to sustain than the solo arts.

Writing is 95% solo. Sure, there’s working with agents and publishers; there are tours, speeches, and signings; there’s social marketing and comments on blogs. But every morning when I sit down to write, I only have Lyn Fairchild Hawks to hold accountable. I don’t lose momentum today if someone in my writers’ group failed to show last night. For my art to get done, I gotta do it, no excuses.

My husband is a musician dependent on at least four others in his band being able to

a) attend practice and show on time;
b) agree on singing the same songs;
c) practice those songs when no one’s looking;
d) assist with set-up and breakdown of sound equipment;
e) dress appropriately for the gig;
f) behave appropriately during the gig;
g) invest financially in a recording venture or new sound equipment;
h) and bring an audience to a show.

I’m leaving out a long, long list of other assumed professional behaviors that one would hope everyone would follow but don’t always appear.

Even with a strong group of musicians, a band leader faces these challenges or variations on them constantly because he prefers the sound that’s made by a group to his solo act. He is not merely artist but also manager, mediator, motivator, coach, etiquette trainer, and a thousand other roles that have nothing to do with songwriting, singing, and playing. Somedays, my biggest problem is believing in myself. Professional musicians don’t have much room for personal worries to get a performance going.

I won’t talk here about theater and its group dynamics, except to recommend you check out the series Slings and Arrows. Let’s just say that not everyone’s on the same page when it comes to putting up a play.

So, writers, what can we do? Stop complaining about how hard writing is, and just do it. I mean, if you’re an incredibly difficult, lazy, and irresponsible person, then maybe you do have something to moan about to a therapist, but if you have half a will and show up to the page, you’ve got an easier gig than some other artists.

And go support the local theater or musician playing near you. Listen and tip well. It took them a lot to get to that stage.

Writing Prompts

  • Who has it easier than you? Who has it harder? Why? Rant a little, and empathize a little. Describe two people’s lives in detail and explain why one has it easier and one has it harder than you.
  • Write about a time in your life when you had it harder than anyone or easier than anyone. How did you feel? What did you do with that difficulty or privilege? How do you see that past experience now?
  • Should one compare oneself to others, or is it a futile exercise? Why or why not?
  • Do you know others who work in different arts than you? What do you know of their lives? Step into their shoes and write a few paragraphs of a life through another’s eyes.
  • How hard is writing for you, on a scale of 1 to 10? Why? What makes it difficult for you to show up to the page? What makes it easy? 
  • Do you consider yourself a professional writer? If so, then what constitutes professional behavior? (You can start with the musician’s list above and see if any of these assumptions apply to the writing life.)
  • What are your writing goals for 2012? 
  • What are the  psychological and physical barriers to your writing or writing well? List them and brainstorm three solutions to each.
  • What arts different than yours do you resolve to support in 2012? Why?

6 Comments

  1. Bob Mustin says:

    Lyn, you’re certainly not shy about your edits, cross-outs, etc., and look at the attention it brings you – from the pub biz – and from your friends and well-wishers.

    Writers approach art a good bit differently from musicians, but in the end, I think, you’re both displaying something greater than the individual – or in Greg’s case, the sum of the individuals.

  2. So true, Bob. I suppose my moanings about my revisions make for some good marketing and social networking! 🙂

    I am also considering a post on how writers do have to “play well with others” in several key moments, and perhaps it’s all the harder because we’re so out of practice when we’re asked to let someone “mess” with our manuscript!

    Lyn

  3. Anonymous says:

    Lyn:

    Excellent post. You should submit this to publications which artists frequent as it would resonate.

    Maybe Antonia can suggest some periodicals.

    Archie

  4. Thanks for this, Lyn. I could, of course, describe football coaching similarly. I do think that something writers, musicians, artists, coaches, and other who “put themselves out there” need to have in common is a deep sense of call and purpose that comes from someplace other than the feedback we get from others. So much of writing and creating is done in ways that may remain invisible to the rest of the world. The passion for it and the love of it must be about more than “making it.” The relationships with others along the way matter very much–and so does the relationship we live with the longest in our lives–the one with ourselves. Thanks for writing this!

  5. Marcia,

    Athletics is another good parallel–with its product of the win–being so much less than as you say, the relationships behind the scenes. It’s incredibly difficult, never mind tragic, to sweat alongside people you hate or don’t trust. I am going to start thinking of G’s work as more ministry than “achieving a performance.” That magical synergy during a show or a game is built on the strengths of the bonds between musicians, actors, and athletes.

    Thanks,

    Lyn

  6. @ Anonymous: thanks for your kind words! I think this post plus a counterpoint (what ways writers have it hard) might be an interesting article.

    Lyn












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