Practice, not Pain

The tortured artist trope is one I don’t agree with. The idea is simple: with great pain comes great art.

The thing is this, we get better at what we practice. To take myself for example, I am good at writing post-break-up poems, because for a long time that is what I wrote.

The ‘tortured artist’ didn’t make those poems better—the artist did. I worked on them, over and over, crafting good, if not limited, poems. They were the ones I edited, the ones I work shopped, the ones I gave at readings.

The pain provided influence, perhaps motivation. I used it as focal point to create.

But this created a new problem where I had to learn to write non-post-break-up poems, or even wider, non-personal-relationship poems—because that is was all I was practicing.

I played rugby for a half-minute (another post-break-up choice) and Coach would say to to us:

Practice makes permanent.

Didn’t me mean ‘perfect’? No. Perfect practice makes perfect. How you practice reflects on how you perform.

And ‘practice’ is something we do as writers. (Something I recommend doing consciously.)

When you only make art when you are in the dark places of life of it is going to be better than when you try elsewhere. You have to learn, to practice.

The thing is, the best poems I write are about breakup and heartache, not because of my pain, but because these are the ones I’ve written the most.

More practice = better art.

If I put the time into love poems or springtime poems that would be as good.

No, there is no special insight a tortured artist has, only focus that drives creation, specific creation. You can write, create, paint without the pain. You need practice.

Do you know how many happy horror writers I know? A lot. Because what we write doesn’t need to reflect on who we are when we write it.

Sure you pull from experience, but we are not bound to it. I don’t need to be going through a loss to write about loss.

And we shouldn’t think that either

About those Guidelines

I was reading posts in one of the writer groups I follow on Facebook the other day and several of the writers were lamenting about the restrictions in markets—things like:

No animal cruelty, no child abuse, no vampire/werewolf/zombies, etc. No serial killers.

One writer commented that they still send stories of these kinds to markets despite the restriction, something they bragged had even worked.

The example restrictions above are actually from LampLight, not the thread, and I wanted to talk about them.

I get stories that go against the guidelines all the time. Some are even fantastically written. Amazing zombie stories, horrific vampire ones. I get a lot of what I would consider ‘drama’—stories that are slice of life, and while tragic, lack that which you need to be a horror story.

Some of which I have quite enjoyed reading. I also rejected them.

The thing about the guidelines is that yes, there is some wiggle room in them, their intention has nothing to do with the writer.

Guidelines are about the reader.

LampLight, as other markets, has a certain theme, mood and feel to it. This helps the reader to know what to expect. A market that goes for anything may be convenient for the writer, but will struggle to find an audience.

More how the story isn’t the whole story—I’m not looking for a good story, I’m looking for a good LampLight story.

Which is why as a submitting author it is important to know the market. And, if the only thing you know about the market is the guidelines, then it is even more important that you abide by them.

Now or “Now”, What’s in a When?

In Japanese Haiku, Yasuda talks about the seasonal word coming from the Renga, he talks that the hokka needed to be referencing now—the season they were in. 

That linked the poets’ experience as they made linked verses—they shared “now” as a frame of reference. 

“Now” is always an interesting thing for poets as we will often write about now later. Using the present as inspiration, but adding time to reflect. 

But there is a certain romantic ideal involved with this season observation—that the poem has more weight that one that was written later, after reflection. 

That “spontaneous overflow” all over again. 

Words have power—sure, but does the generation of those words also have power? Would a poem be the same, composed about war, but not in war? About love, not in or out of love? If the Irish shoreline weaves into a poem, does the distance between it and where I am sitting change the verses? 

Or do we simply search for the true names of gods that only have one name: the final product?