Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Risk (not brought to you by Parker Bros.)

I've had almost 24 hours to assess what happened yesterday and a nice little kernal of insight popped out of the boiling hot mess of my mind this morning. This is what I do not say enough of:

Writing is risk-taking.

It deserves to stand alone up there, because it's really true. f you write for any kind of audience, keeping in mind that wonderful quote--(best heard in a Bob Marley song) "you can't please all the people all the time"--at any given time that you put your words out into the world, you are opening yourself to criticism, opinions, judgments, emotional ire and a variety of other things. Words seem so innocent all in their own self-contained textual spaces, standing neatly next to one another like rows of kindergarteners. How can my harmless little j, or a perfectly acceptable p come together to form phrases that piss people off and move them to tears? Well, now I'm dumbing it down, but you get where I'm going with this.

So writing for the public, be it journalism or creative writing, be it an article on garbage dumps or a novel, is taking a risk because people very often cannot separate the writer from their words. Say I wrote an article on a heated political topic like health care and I included one more quote from the uninsured elderly parkinson's sufferer than I did from an official assuring everyone that solutions were being taken. You could easily call the article biased, slanted. And our biases do slip in, it's true. But even still, no matter how hard you as the writer try, there is always someone, somewhere who will find fault with what you've written and how you've written it. Say I wrote a novel in which a character behaves badly, and someone says, "I don't think anyone would act like that in real life!" Whatever the scenario, however lame the criticism, it still has the power to cut.

Here is the thing about risk. When you take risks, people around you do not say, "Bravo for your risk taking. Bravo for that interesting piece of art you've made, or that fabulous thing you've written. Think of the world of critics. They say: "You got it wrong!" or "How the hell does that relate to anything?" or "I don't believe this character!" It's so easy to be a critic. It's so easy to exert power over something created and tear it down.

So maybe you might say, "But wait Jordan, writing risks are not like taking physical risks. You're not hanging off a high cliff, dangling by one hand and awaiting death. You're not jumping from an airplane or putting yourself in the saddle of a bucking bronco!" And I say to you that you must not know any artists. We're tightly wound, emotionally heightened creatures. When you exist in an emotional place, when that is your entry point into the world, then yeah, actually, it's a lot like dangling over a cliff awaiting death when someone says you aren't good enough. Lots of artists kill themselves (don't worry, I'm not one of those).

Still, as a writer, or an artist of any kind, you know that the risks of criticism and rejection are a hell of a lot higher than the rewards, and yet you still do it. Sometimes you run into an encounter like I had yesterday, where your best is not good enough, where all your failure buttons are pushed. And you have to remind yourself: I took a risk, and sometimes a risk is just a risk with all the inevitable consequences, while other times, the rewards spin out exponentially, changing your life.



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