Learning to Write – Impossible
by Christina Carson
Learning, as we’ve been brought up to understand it, is actually the act of acquisition of information, a process that stuffs the individual with data, occasionally requiring the student to work with that data: summarizing it, applying it, analyzing it, or memorizing it. That is learning according to the established methodology that took over when mentoring was replaced by institutional education. I’m not trying to beg a point or stir the hive merely to create a ruckus. I am interested in presenting a notion for you to ponder: no accomplished artist ever learned their art using the model for learning that we’ve all been taught to believe is how we learn. As an artist, you can save yourself a great deal of time if you come to that realization quickly.
The learning that fosters advancement in the arts is what I’d call intuitive learning. Its signature song is curiosity. If you’re a writer, questions like—What’s basically going to happen in this story? What is the protagonist going to experience overall? What kind of person would the protagonist have to be to find themselves in that experience?—might begin the process. You have to put the word out to the universe, and I don’t mean that as a figure of speech. Whether you are aware of the vast interconnectedness that is our universe and beyond, or not, you will employ it anyway, because you have no choice in the matter. That is just the way things work. To find this out, rather than take someone’s word for it, try it, put the word out, through your mind—a general statement of a story you want to tell—and let it start to brew. Notice how it begins to suck story to it, growing like cotton candy on that paper cone. See for yourself how art truly comes to life. Start it long before you finish the book you’re working on presently. Give it time to whirl.
The second predilection (not skill) needed to cozy up to the intuitive is an observant nature. Artists must hone their abilities to pay attention, not just to the world around them, but most specifically to what is going on inside them as they look, hear, imagine, review, live, and relive the lives that are their own. Here’s how Aldous Huxley says it:
“Experience is not a matter of having actually swum the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes, or slept in a doss house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and coordinating.”
Learn to look and look deeply, and you will begin to see things that you’ve never seen before.
And finally we come to the crux of the matter, that which ultimately separates artists into good and great. You must find you own stash of courage, the part of you that will look. We’re talking looking here, not just watching. Watching falls into the category-spectator. Looking is more akin to digging to the bottom of your photo album box, seeking to know if that was love in his eyes all those years ago, or if it’s all been a lie. It is letting yourself relive a moment of triumph, not to rerun it like last year’s TV Soaps, but to see what triumph tastes and feels like or …see, if indeed, it was triumph at all. Guts are what great artists have in spades. And though their lives may at times be in shambles; where their art is concerned, there they will always rise up to the truth, even if only to fall again. For that is the sacred vow we take as artists: to bring the truth, to deliver authenticity, to commit to integrity.
In any of that did you see the need to memorize? Could anyone put that together with an outline and still keep the flame of discovery alive? Or do we have to lay it out on a table like a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle and let the universe, through the innate and mysterious force of intuition, create the book using us as the story gatherer, the initial question-asker, the insatiable sentient who will be paid off in the end with unexpected insight into the arcane nature of her own life and that of the universe as well.
You are the truth from foot to brow.
Now, what else would you like to know?
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