The Invisible Artist

I had an epiphany this week: no one cares that I have an MFA.

Another epiphany immediately followed: no one should care.

It all sounds much more dramatic than it was, really. Sometimes after shows, visitors ask us, “So…did you, like, go to school for this or something?”

“I went to theatre school!” inevitably draws admiring murmurs and follow-up questions. “I have my Masters in Creative Writing!” not so much.

It’s a silly thing. I hate the small, venomous part of me that bristles at it. But you know what? We all have our vanities and our arrogances, and I want to be honest. It is such a silly thing, but sometimes it really sucks.

From “Among Elves and Trolls,” John Bauer (1912).

What helps is remembering why I got an MFA. I didn’t get it for glory. I got it so that I could become a better writer. No other reason. Degrees and workshops and grants are all very nice—but having them isn’t what matters. What matters is what you do with them.

Learning.

Creating.

Forging new opportunities.

And writing isn’t full of much glamour anyway. We tend to be paid last and least. We’re generally the silent partner, drafting proposals in the basement. Like good sound editing, good writing is often invisible, which doesn’t help if you’re after recognition.

GOBLIN 1:    The Snow Queen doesn’t make any sense without goblins. We’ve got the most important part: there’s no story without us.

GOBLIN 2:    But after this, we’re never seen again. No glory, no thanks, no nothing!

GOBLIN 1:    It could be worse. (Pause) We could be playwrights.

The Snow Queen: a Pantomime, by Me (2016).

So if not for fame and fortune, why write?

Because we must; because we’re artists. But I’m not going to say, “Forget external validation.” That’s not realistic; most humans like praise. When you’ve worked really hard on something—put your heart and soul into it—pulled off the impossible on sheer grit and nerve—of course you want a clap on the back. There’s nothing wrong with that.

From “Cinderella,” Arthur Rackham (1919).

But to counterbalance that craving, we need an even stronger core of self-assurance and self-knowledge. Because the praise won’t always come. The kudos won’t. The appreciative murmurs won’t. And when that happens, an inner, steely kernel will keep you going. That’s your compass: external validation is a nice boost, but you don’t want to steer by it.

At the end of the day…yeah, I have a hungry ego. And I’ve worked to temper it, because it doesn’t have any place in the creative process. What good is praise and validation if you don’t value what you do? “Believe in yourself” sounds so cliché, but if you don’t, who will?

I think it’s one of the hardest things we face, as artists. Putting the mitts back on, wiping our faces, and striding out into the silent ring. But if you can know—if you can know, deep down—that what you’re doing is good and worthwhile—

“How Sir Launcelot Fought with a Friendly Dragon,” Arthur Rackham (1917).

Then the fight is already won.

-KT

What I’m Listening to This Week

I found “Dacw ‘Nghariad” by accident and immediately became obsessed. It’s one of those pieces that make stories flash before your eyes. Pretty sure this is a lullaby for my new novel’s protagonist… Of course, she’s not Welsh, but we’ll forget about that for now.

Posted on September 11, 2017, in Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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