“As in everything, so in writing I am almost afraid of going too far. What can this be? Why? For what purpose am I saving myself?” —Clarice Lispector
This is the second time I’ve found myself writing here when I really ought to be doing other things. These days, with the spring semester underway, I’m busier than I’ve been in what feels like ages. Teaching demands attentiveness and regular deadlines against which I rush to prepare. I find myself losing ground to fruitless procrastination. I don’t mean the kind of procrastination writers sometimes talk about where they clean their whole house. I mean the kind where you go online and emerge, six hours later, from a fugue state. But today I actually sat down and wrote some letters, which is something I’d definitely like to do more of, and now I’m here, writing this, because something was rising in my throat—or possibly in my hands—and it really wanted to come out.
I’m in the final stretch of a writing workshop where, each week, we have a freewriting assignment. I came into the course thinking that it wouldn’t be a problem. Aren’t I always freewriting? I’ve accumulated like, 20 journals over the past four years or so that are filled entirely with freewriting.
So, you might understand, it was funny and not a little horrifying when I realized what, exactly, I would be freewriting—not just whatever popped into my little head and decided to make some noise, oh no. I would be freewriting scenes.
There’s something about sitting in front of the page without even the barest outline of a plan that blankets me with anxiety. “No one ever died from writing badly,” my teacher reassured us, but, like…was she sure about that?
Well, I haven’t died (yet), but I can assure you, there’s nothing that opens you to the limits of your imagination like freewriting a scene from a short story or novel. Maybe for you, it’s the opposite. Maybe freewriting gracefully points you towards new avenues of exploration.
For me, it kind of feels like this.
I can approach my characters with all the excitement and fervor of Donald O’Connor, but they just sit there, immobile, cloth-like, and weirdly headless.
So, I wonder, is there something behind that? Like Clarice Lispector, I ask, for what purpose am I saving myself?
And there is something, sometimes, that emerges at the end of this writing. It’s not beautiful or seamless but sometimes there’s a line or two in it that tells me something I didn’t know. And I guess I want to know how to follow that.
I’m working on what, for lack of a better word, I’m calling a creative manifesto, partly inspired by Cortney Cassidy’s “A Soft Manifesto.” 1 Not a manifesto in the sense of wanting to produce a series of rules for others to follow, but in terms of a desire to move towards some guidelines for my own practice.
So far, I have ten guidelines, in the form of questions, stretching across different aspects of the creative process:
- Have I given the work space and time to move and live in me, through me?
- Have I written something that speaks to my yearning and that can potentially open others up to a yearning that they might not have known existed before?
- Have I learned something through this writing?
- Have I been compassionate with myself and my process?
- Have I taken care of myself while writing this, or have I run myself ragged?
- Does this piece nourish me? If not, is there another compelling reason to work on it?
- Have I followed my curiosity and my own desire?
- What question or questions does this piece ask, and has the writing satisfied them, or increased my curiosity? Or neither?
- How does this writing sustain me, and in what ways (financial, emotional, erotic, etc) and what have I learned from this writing? Where do I go from here?
- To whom is this process and piece accountable, and is there anyone with whom I need to check in, including myself?
These are guidelines that I’m still trying to articulate and work/live with/by, especially now as I approach the last week before my two conference works are due to be presented. Feel free to play with them, adapt them, and try them out for your own purposes.
If you have a creative and/or artistic practice, what are some of the guidelines you work with, whether consciously or unconsciously? Feel free to hit reply and tell me about them! I love process talk 💖
There’s a lot I love about Cassidy’s manifesto, and also a lot that doesn’t work for me, especially in how she seems to advocate the idea that you can remove your artistic practice out from underneath the constraints of capitalism. Some people don’t want a career as an artist, and that’s great, but I think things get more complicated for those of us who do want to make a living—or part of one—off of our art.