When you’re making something… whether it be a sandwich, a novel, a painting, or a relationship… you can either do so mindfully or mindlessly. With intent, or aimlessly. Let’s narrow our focus here, from ‘anything’ to ‘art’ to ‘writing.’
I’m not talking about pantsing versus plotting here. I’m talking about being aware of the consequences of your actions and the impact your creative choices have on what you end up with. The first artistic choice we can make is whether to approach our work with awareness or self-absorption.
It can be hard, as a writer, to maintain a state of mindfulness, in an environment where readers and critics will analyze our output for factors we might not be intending to include. Inclusiveness. Diversity. Cultural appropriation. Objectification.
We might say to ourselves, “Fuck, I just want to write about zombies or spaceships or elves and dragons or whatever.” We might want to decry the influence of political correctness, and envision ourselves as taking some sort of stand when we refuse to capitulate to what those people want our precious art to be.
But that’s what we’re doing. Taking a stand. Making a statement of values. Making a political choice, even if that choice is denial of political intent.
Wanna know a secret?
Nobody gives a fuck about your actual intent
There’s this old chestnut that I can barely remember about Herman Melville (or some other author) giving some smart alec response to what those high-falutin’ English teachers read into his work, probably culminating with everybody standing up and clapping.
It doesn’t matter if Herman wanted the whale to be a whale or ambition or the devil or influenza. Once you finish something and put it out there, it’s not yours anymore. Art does not exist in absence of the observing mind to render it so. Words on a screen are just pixels, a book is just dead trees and ink.
A story is only a story when someone reads the fucker and filters it through their lifetime of experience. Art isn’t writing a book or painting a picture or singing a song. Art isn’t a noun. Art is a verb, the action of deriving meaning from synthesis. You, as a writer or artist or poet or dancer, provide a catalyst. The audience provides meaning. A million different meanings. And that’s the environment we publish into.
Our work persists, so we’re publishing into the unknown future of critical analysis, too. We cannot control how our work is received, but we can control how mindful we are when we create it. The context in which it was created.
So look around. See what people care about. What your audience’s mindset is. That’s your context. And how you respond to that context, that’s your expression of intent. We don’t live in a vacuum and we cannot claim ignorance of the attitudes and values of our audience.
Well. We can. That’s called being a shit writer with no sense of the market. Write your grand epic about things only you care about with a willful ignorance of how it’ll be received. That’s a choice, too. You have no excuse not to make it with an understanding of what you’re doing, except for sloppiness.
Political stances are valid. Sloppiness is the mark of a shit writer.Don’t be a shit writer.The world is too connected to make a legitimate claim to be writing in a vacuum. You know what people think. You know how they feel. You know how your works will be taken, and if you choose to write in a way that leaves people feeling oppressed or unimportant or like you’re so full of your own sense of self-importance that it pours out of every orifice like a waterfall of privilege, then that’s something you’ve chosen. That’s your brand. That’s your image.Don’t say you weren’t warned. You knew what you were doing. You have no deniability. You own your choices, they own you, no matter how lazy you’re feeling about it.You write, you release, you relinquish all control over interpretation and intent. That’s it.