Until I started writing a blog I’d never read one. And one thing that surprised me right away was how so many talented, creative people writing them were talking so freely, so honestly, and so candidly—so confidentially–about their work in progress. And knowing that hardly anyone does anything without expecting something in return, I wondered why they were doing that. What were they gaining? And were they losing something by doing it as I had been led to believe a creator who did that would? Now I can see that they are gaining something of immeasurable benefit.
I cannot imagine myself showing work in progress I’m serious about or discussing it with anyone until I think it’s finished and that I’ve done the best I can. To get that feeling about the work I’m serious about such as a book or a literary sketch, I might make major changes in it 70 or 75 times before anyone else knows about it. When I was writing what was to become my most popular book, an award-winning poet/professor of literature friend and I would get together every two or three weeks and talk intensely for hours about writers and writing (and jazz, and the price of apples—that kind of thing–etc.).
And for two years I never once mentioned the book I was spending 18 or 20 hours a day writing. I told him about it when I gave him the date it would be hitting the book stores. He said “What the hell?” I didn’t show him. I didn’t show my wife. I didn’t show other friends. I didn’t show anyone because I didn’t want to hear anything that might affect my vision of the work, my plans for it, or my enthusiasm for it. And I believed that if you talked about your work in progress you’d dissipate the drive and energy you should be using to write it. I was very happy with my editor who didn’t give me a word of advice except to say, “An introduction would be a good idea,” and then as I turned chapters in said simply, “It’s really very good.”
But once the work in my mind is done I want to hear the frankest and most direct criticism, the kind a creator gains the most from—if it’s from someone who knows what they’re talking about. A teacher in college said to me, “A good friend is one who’ll kick you in the teeth constructively” and that has always stayed with me. Without adequate feedback, effective learning is impossible and performance improvements only minimal, even for the most highly gifted artists or writers.
You need to have a good sense of your strengths and weaknesses as a creator. Often the best route to that kind of self-understanding is via constructive feedback and help from other people who won’t know about you unless you tell them the way bloggers tell you, “Here I am in England, Russia, Paraguay, Australia, Oman, etc., and I’m working hard.”
Getting help, support, and feedback is a major strategy for reaching creative excellence. Without any doubt at all, performance feedback, support, high motivation, and writing success go hand in hand despite what anyone says to the contrary. Being deprived of support and positive feedback is a big reason why so many thousands of creators give up their craft altogether and turn to other pursuits, hoping to find fulfillment there. And maybe finding it, maybe not.
I suppose I was thinking along the lines of William Faulkner who said, “The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity.” Or Truman Capote who said, “I never show anybody a single thing I write…I write it and finish it and this is the way it’s going to be.” Or Hans Koning, author of 40 books who wrote, “You don’t worry about what editors or reviewers may like or not like. (That comes afterward.) You don’t write…in order to get an independent judgment. Your own judgment is independent. You don’t accept any suggested changes except where you made a factual or grammatical mistake. My motto has been through all these years: Not a comma.” (And I once had an editor who told me she was so depressed because she’d argued for an hour with a writer about a comma.)
Ernest Hemingway believed talking about your work was bad luck and that writers should work in disciplined isolation, and “should see each other only after their work is done, and not too often then.” Otherwise they become “like writers in New York.” He thought that giving a public reading of your work in progress was “the lowest thing a writer can do” and was “dangerous” for the writer. If people liked the writing and said, “It’s great Ernest,” he would think, “If these bastards like it what is wrong with it?” “It made me feel sick for people to talk about my writing to my face.”
When I ask myself why I’m so private about my work until in my mind it’s finished (at that point I’d like every person on earth to read it) my theory is it’s because growing up we did not talk openly about personal things that were important to us and were taught not to blow our own horn, not to be showy in any way, and that has had a lasting effect on me. Not showing off is a value I think of all born and bred bona fide American Middle Westerners. Even now when I find myself showing off in my writing I say to myself, “Cut it out.”
I’ve often thought about there being so many women artist and writer bloggers and so few men and such strong relationships between the women. It’s kind of lonely for me. But I sit back and read what creative women say to each other and just as often have thought, “There’s something very special, very wonderful going on. Look how they understand each other, how they comprehend each other’s meanings, the nuances and subtleties. And how they raise each others’ confidence.”
When I look at the comments such forthright writer and artist bloggers receive about their experiences with their works in progress, what strikes me is that what they receive mainly is not technical information. There’s very little discussion of that at all, or it’s superficial—a few positive words. No, they talk about what they’re going through—their difficulties, successes, failures, setbacks, fears, and hopes, the balance they’re trying so hard to strike between their creative life and their family and work lives. And that’s exactly what readers want more than anything to hear about and what they respond to.
Before I’d thought of writing a blog and I don’t think knew what a blog was, my son Eli, a writer himself, told me I should write one. “Me?” I said. And he said, “Yes.” He said I was writing every day for hours and producing volumes of work, and that I should share it with other people and receive feedback from them.
How I love now to wake in the morning and still drowsy-eyed go upstairs to my work room, and there on the screen see that I’d been visited overnight by viewers from the world’s capitals and desert villages, remote South Sea and Atlantic islands, and African mountain kingdoms accessible only by horseback–Lesotho, Sri Lanka, Somalia–and to hear from them that they like what I’m doing and look forward to it. What a joy to hear from bloggers from everywhere who’ve become my friends, whose work I admire, to hear the stories of the lives they’re leading and to care about them and about hard they’re trying and to think about them.
What honest bloggers receive in return for their blogging is what every creative person hungers for—companionship, friendship, kindness, generosity, and words of blessed encouragement. To “discourage” someone is to steal their courage away from them, but to “encourage” them is to give them courage. When we’re deeply discouraged –and that is so often in the arts–our courage abandons us and one way or another we must retrieve it or we will perish creatively. The main thing a writer or artist–or actor or dancer–has to overcome is getting discouraged.
Even the smallest encouragement during difficult times bolsters a person’s spirits. Someone, anyone, saying, “Just hang in there, my friend, a little longer.”
© 2016 David J. Rogers
For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:
Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers
Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority
21 responses to “Why Do Creative People Write Blogs?”
I’ve wondered about the same thing, especially now that I’m blogging daily. What you say makes so much sense. Sharing this.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Antonia, thanks for getting back to me. I’m glad you find the post interesting, and thanks for sharing it.
LikeLiked by 2 people
I really enjoy your blog.
Thank you, Antonia. I’m glad you enjoy it, and I appreciate your letting me know. Let’s be sure to stay in touch.
LikeLiked by 1 person
“What honest bloggers receive in return for their blogging is what every creative person hungers for—companionship, friendship, kindness, generosity, and words of blessed encouragement. To “discourage” someone is to steal their courage away from them, but to “encourage” them is to give them courage. When we’re deeply discouraged –and that is so often in the arts–our courage abandons us and one way or another we must retrieve it or we will perish creatively. The main thing a writer or artist–or actor or dancer–has to overcome is getting discouraged.”
is perfectly written and reflects exactly why I blog, what I’m looking for as a new artist, and why comments are so important. It’s the encourage vs. discourage in which you’ve hit the nail on the head. Thank you David, this encouragement is what spurs me on to keep on growing as an artist, challenging myself to reach a higher level.
But if you notice I also moderate all comments coming into my blog – blogging is something that I do freely and enjoy the people I meet. Negativity is not something I’m looking for to spur me on. I regularly get good structured criticism w/my artwork that I look forward too and allow to be posted – it’s all in the delivery.
Thanks again – awesome post.
Mary, thank you for your comment. You’re new to the arts; I’m a veteran. But encouragement still touches me. For example, your saying to me that something of mine is perfectly written. What a wonderful thing to hear.
You’re right about negativity. It has never spurred a single human being on to creative success. Negativity is ruinous of a creator’s career and has no place in it. I’d like years from now for someone to think about me and say I never wrote a negative word. Your blog is something to be proud of, and I’m sure you are. I read your bio and also wanted to tell you how lovely I think your work is. It’s hard to believe it’s a second career. I’ve written a blog post about self-taught artists and writers and am always so impressed with them. If you’re interested, here is the link http://wp.me/p4Ia7A-gq You might also be interested in this post on second careers http://wp.me/p4Ia7A-6s
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you David for your nice comment and feedback. My road had a few interesting paths that I traveled down, but none more so than when I made a turn to art that is fulfilling, challenging and a whole lot of fun. I get totally lost in my learnings and when creating – I’m very lucky to be able to pursue this venture.
Mary, you’ve made a happy discovery, the kind that many people their entire lives never make–that some field of activity is exactly right for you and will absorb you probably for the rest of your life. How fulfilled that must make you feel.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I don’t even know why I started blogging except I had some ideas and was looking for somewhere to put them. Technology and me are not close friends so even setting a blog up seems like a miracle in hindsight.
Things moved on, and then I started writing fiction, and I found I loved the art and feel of creating with words. Finally a nice publisher asked me to write a book, and others had prompted me to do so, so I sat down and wrote a book and then another.
The main response has been a quantity of kind compliment-filled dialogue unattached to significant book sales I sadly can confirm, but that’s the way it goes: I still love writing anyway
Peter, every writer comes to realize that there is writing books and then there is writing financially successful books. Jules Renard said that writing is the only profession where no one thinks you’re ridiculous if you earn no money. But I’m happy you picked up blogging and are still writing and enjoying it, and am sure you are too.
I was ruminating about this, as I often do, which is a testament to the quality of your blog and the quality of questions that you pose. I think My feeling is that, in any field of creative endeavour, there are gifted amateurs who seek an outlet for their passion and “professionals” for whom venting their imagination or philosophy is absolutely the central driver in their lives. In that I am a professional. Its not a case of “enjoying it” or having a nice chat with online chums. It is an obsession.
I think if you had gone up to Van Gogh in his unrecognised period and said, “It must be so lovely to have the time to enjoy your love of painting and garner a few compliments along the way he would have looked at you as if you were deranged. Being successful to him meant more than money, it meant serious recognition, and without that he would consider himself deluded. I could go on but good manners demand I stop writing immediately!
Peter, I’ve found that many amateurs are obsessed with their craft, and for them it may be the single most important thing in their life as it may be for professionals. It brings them something very few other things do, as it does possibly for you and me. I appreciate your comments and am happy to see them waiting for me.
Good morning David. Like you, I had no idea what a blog was when I began to write one eight years ago! Rather I followed my intuition and instinct. I was in the process of moving permanently to SW France, when my Mother became ill and so I found myself overseeing her care in Kent…and feeling somewhat cut off. Initially, the blog was a way for me to put down my thoughts on a daily basis…..however, over the years, it has developed into something that I enjoy enormously and most importantly through it, I have met some wonderful creatives from around the world, some of whom I consider good friends.
I work in isolation quite a lot and so it’s wonderful to be able to take a break during my painting day to chat with other like minded creatives.
Like all things in life, for it to work well, there needs to be a level of consistency and always honesty. As you so wisely pointed out, it is through honesty as bloggers that we connect with others who are on similar paths….and what a joy that is.
Thank you, and hope you enjoy a lovely Monday – it is a bank holiday here:)Janet.
Janet, it’s good to hear from you, as always. Yes, that’s true, blogging does counter isolation, as you say. My, oh my, you’ve been blogging for eight years!! I know that in that time you’ve developed a large and loyal following, and it’s well-deserved. I wonder if what’s true for me is true also for you: every month or so I say, ” This is my last post. It’s time-consuming to research and write, and hard work, and it takes away from other projects that might bring me more tangible rewards. But then I think of another topic people might like to learn about, and I do another post, and so it goes. I realized a long time ago, I’m a teacher, and so I teach.
Weather here is warming; my wife and I can resume our four-times-a week walks through beautiful Chicago Botanic Garden. People visit it from all over the world, and we are lucky to live very close.
I wanted to tell you how happy I am to find so many people responding with likes and retweets to my recent retweet of your painting Spring with Hummingbirds, one of my favorites.
Be talking to you soon.
Good morning, David. Oh yes, I do have my moments when I think – should I pack it in? However, I am not ready to do so yet. Early days, I posted at least five times a week…..and then I backed off a little to the point that now I post once a week….which works so much better for me. When I go away to teach/paint, I actually take a holiday from all social media, and have found this to be highly beneficial. I will be off to Portugal on the 19th to give an annual workshop, and wont look at a computer the whole time I am there. This frees my mind to focus on the job at hand….and cleans my mental palette – as I like to call it. So pleased that your weather is improving – I am quite sure walks in a beautiful Botanic Garden is pure tonic after a cold winter. We have just experienced a huge storm – (they come more and more frequently these days) however, today is sunny and the forecast talks about spring like weather arriving soon….we are all ready. All our flowers and shrubs have been blooming for weeks, but it has been cold for us, which means quite warm for you:)
I really appreciated your tweeting my image….please feel free to do so anytime. Enjoy your day….Janet….
LikeLiked by 1 person
I still struggle with sharing the process before the work is done. Once it’s finished, I’ll happily show how I got there, but showing my journey as I’m taking it is harder for me. That said, I’ve been doing it more and I’ve been “en-couraged” by the response. 🙂 I know it’s different for a writer like you as opposed to an image-maker, but just the act of sharing that supremely vulnerable bit is rewarding. It’s a kind of trust exercise, with your community as well as with yourself. As in: will they be careful with this part of me? And: will my creative spirit survive and thrive even if they’re not?
Gwenn, You put the issue in its right perspective—the two main concerns: will they be careful with that part of us and will we “survive and thrive” even if they’re not?” I can see that bloggers responding to someone’s work try to treat the writer or artist kindly while at the same time making the most helpful suggestions they can. I don’t see much meanness. I can’t remember seeing any and am so impressed with how kind bloggers are. I think most writers and artists will give feedback on their work a fair hearing if the feedback is offered in a caring spirit. And I would stop reading any criticism as soon as I sensed any mean-spiritedness,
As for will I survive—I think that question answers itself the more experience you have. You become able to separate useful and legitimate feedback from the useless and unjustified, and you become tougher because you’re more and more confident of your abilities.
I said it somewhere, and it’s true—at some point of expertise you become a far better critic of your own work than anyone else on earth. I’ve found that most criticisms an experienced writer or artist receives, she’s already thought about and dismissed.
I think you’ll become braver and braver. So nice to hear from you.
I have gotten some very negative responses to my work–though not particularly my works-in-progress. I think it’s a function of being a woman with an opinion in a world where many men still feel justified in objectifying and denigrating women. Maybe that’s where the super supportive female community comes from…? It could be a response to the male-on-female hate that’s so common on the internet.
Some people–men and women both–judging artistic work are horribly vindictive and take pleasure in cruelty. English writer Rudyard Kipling would go on to establish himself as a master stylist with a staggering ability with words and to win the Nobel Prize in literature. But early in his career a publisher wrote him: “I’m sorry, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” Vladimir Nabokov, also a dazzling stylist, received this message from a publisher in response to Lolita: “I recommend that you bury this under a stone for a thousand years.” Many successful writers, artists, and actors, like painter Jackson Pollock, who revolutionized painting, have been told, “You haven’t an ounce of talent.” The most heartless and undeserved criticism I ever received was meted out by a woman . The vicious attitudes of men you speak of are so contrary to my own attitudes that I have no understanding of such men. We have to put such people completely out of our mind and pay no attention to them. We must non-attach. See my post on that. http://wp.me/p4Ia7A-bv
Both men and women can be vicious as you say, but some men make attacks that are specifically violent and sexual. Non-attaching isn’t enough. Men need to speak up when they see other men doing this–online or IRL.
Yes, Gwenn, surely people should speak up when they encounter any form of wrong. And attacks based on gender are reprehensible. But it’s important that people such as artists and writers get on with their work without being thrown off by the people who make such attacks. Thanks for your comments. I looked at the work you are doing and it’s extremely interesting to me. Many of your subjects comment on how expertly you caught their essence in your portraits, and I can see that that is true.