Score One for Creativity

It’s important to stand out in a crowd. I know, I know, that’s not what we heard when we were kids. Standing out was not the recommended behavior for those whose goal wasn’t to be voted class clown in their high school yearbook.

Still, as writers, it’s what publishers and marketing firms and even readers tell us our books should do. I don’t know if they are right or not, as I’ve apparently not stood out from the crowd enough to discover that answer. The New York Times has not yet come calling to make sure they spell my name right on the bestseller list.

I have discovered though, that sometimes what it takes to stand out is blunt honesty. I uncovered this tactic recently while driving around the city I live in. I don’t know how many panhandlers there are in other places, but my town has turned this into a regular job for a lot of folks. And some of them are using a very creative approach to standing out from their particular crowd. In the last few weeks I’ve seen a couple that made me take note.

One went for the “let me cry on your shoulder” approach with the following sign:

“Homeless due to poor taste in men”

Another decided to throw caution to the wind and act as if we were all his buddies. His sign read:

“I want a beer”

I didn’t stop and chat to see how their attempts at creativity worked out, but they reminded me of something my dad once told me about one of his college professors. He said sometimes they would get papers back with answers marked wrong, but out to the side they would say “OTC +1”. The professor told them he’d given them one point for “the old college try”. Hopefully these folks got a least a buck for trying to stand out from the crowd. I’d hate to see that kind of creativity go to waste.

The Economics of Writing

I have this stereotype of a writer I cling to: sitting in a small cafe for hours, hunched over a journal writing, while sipping some form of expensive hot drink from time to time (or wine, which goes better with the fact that I’d really like the cafe to be in Paris). A small part of me still believes you can’t call yourself a true writer until you do that.

As with most of my dreams, however, this one gets hit by a reality check all the time. I am your basic introvert with one quirk: I love to be in crowds. Oh, I don’t want to interact with them, at least not beyond a smile and a few words of chitchat. I think that’s why I love them. They are strangers demanding nothing more of me than basic courtesy.

And I enjoy getting out somewhere to do my writing, somewhere where I can’t see the dishes or the laundry or all the other little things that can pull me away from writing. So I keep trying to find the perfect spot to sit and write. But experience taught me small cafes have a number of limitations:

  • they are very expensive
  • most of those hot drinks they sell contain coffee
  • I hate coffee

Most of them don’t have the noise either, at least not beyond quiet, polite chatter. When I first got serious about my writing, I would sit in a local diner. It was the most creative atmosphere I’ve ever found. There were kids running around, families arguing, waitresses calling orders back. It was awesome. And it was cheap. Which was excellent because more often than not I was broke. The gas money it took to get there was about all I had to spend.

When my finances got somewhat better, I started looking for one of my dream cafes, where artists of all kind would gather and the creativity vibes would reverberate around the room. Yet the writing I did fell far short of my diner journals.

Thanks to my grandchildren, I have become well acquainted with McDonald’s. It’s full of noise of all kinds, kids running around yelling, all the things you’d think would prevent any focus on writing at all. I even got to watch two old men almost come to blows the other day.

But I’m finally ready to admit I do my best work there. And it’s cheap. I can grab a coke for a dollar, there’s an abundance of excellent character material right in front of me and as long as I don’t start a fight, they don’t appear to want to throw me out. I wonder if they have McDonald’s in Paris?

I Read, Therefore I Judge

I’ve been reading the comments sections of posts. Perhaps a bit too much:

trollThe black cloud of negativity, who says things like:

“George R.R. Martin is the most overrated writer in the history of fantasy/sci-fi. His books read like a contract and substitute shock value for originality and talented story telling.”

“You want fluff, read a Dragonlance novel or that shite Gabaldon series.”

And I won’t even go into the comments on the #AskELJames fiasco on Twitter.

For the most part, those in many professions don’t get critiqued by total strangers online. Artists have become, for some unfathomable reason, the target for a kind of criticism that goes beyond taste. It isn’t enough these days to say a particular work isn’t the type you enjoy. It must be slammed into the ground, the artist portrayed as stupid, untalented, etc.

“I don’t like it” isn’t acceptable anymore. The very fact of dislike now impugns not only that work but everything an artist does and even who they are.

I wonder if those who do this have ever considered that wiping out the confidence and the desire of those who make art may leave them without anyone to criticize at all. How many artists give up under the weight of uninformed and untrue insults their work receives? And how many careers are damaged by the platforms so easily available to those whose only talent is to criticize?

I am reminded of an old adage: those who can, do. The twist these days comes in the second part of the saying: those who can’t, criticize.