10 Lies About Creative People
In today's Irish Diary: phony ADHD and the dirty truth about being a novelist.
March 20, 2014 - 2:47 pm
Attention, the Creative Community: does this make any sense to you? One of my pet peeves on Facebook — and you may friend me there simply by looking up “David Kahane” and finding the avatar for Rules for Radical Conservatives — is this kind of list, which purports to impart wisdom but usually just makes your brain ache. Are “creative people” “easily bored”? Do they “think with their heart”? Do they “hate the rules”? No, no, and Hell No, says I.
As the author of six novels (with a new one on the way), one produced script and another heading into production, plus half a dozen sold scripts and four or five projects in various states of fruition (i.e., producer and director attachments), let me say as a member in good standing of the creative community that this list strikes me as better describing a civilian’s idea of “creativity.” For one thing, creative people are not easily bored. From conception through publication of my novel, And All the Saints (winner of the 2004 American Book Award and soon to be available in a spiffy new Kindle and other platforms e-edition), the time elapsed was seven full years. Seven years to think it up, internalize it, decide on the voice (first-person) and the tone, research it on location in New York City and Hot Springs, Ark., write it, get it edited, proofread the galleys and at last hold the finished book in my hand. Was I bored? Not a single time, never, to quote another famous resident of Hot Springs and, as it turned out, a protege of my narrator, the great Irish-American gangster Owney Madden. When the work is going well it’s not work, it’s fun.
Another false meme is that creative folks hate the rules. On the contrary, we love the rules. We internalize the rules. We master the rules. And we continue to love and use the rules even when we are breaking them — which of course we could not do had we not learned them well in the first place. Rules are not arbitrary edicts, but standards that evolve over time based on what works. Only amateurs break them without knowing them — and it shows. The creation of any work of art requires a knowledge of structure, which is why writers and other artists — such as architects — learn how to build from the ground up. They don’t think with their hearts, they think with their heads. After all, the heart can only beat when it’s encased in a solid structure first.
Even “work independently” is not quite right. True, the super-glamorous profession of novelist or screenwriter takes place for long stretches of time with the writer sitting alone in a small room, typing. But nothing exists in a vacuum: writers have agents and editors, screenwriters have agents and producers and directors and studio suits and a horde of other colleagues once the film is actually being made. We interact constantly and symbiotically, and benefit both emotionally and (some of the time, anyway) financially.
One thing that’s true: we do make lots of mistakes, with the bones of countless false starts, misdirections and even whole drafts buried in our back yards. And it’s also true that we change our mind(s) “alot.” A. Lot. We also learn how to spell. Meanwhile, back on the home front: