Monday, December 11, 2017

The Three Rules For Creating Art That Matters



Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for free books on her author website.


I don't often talk about my personal life on Go Teen Writers. Our focus here is always writing, and yet today is one of those days that I can't deny that my personal life and writing life are woven together. This fall, due to circumstances outside of writing, I've often felt drained and uninspired

Last week, when I confessed to my friend Roseanna that I was struggling to stay focused, she did that lovely thing that good friends do and validated how I was feeling. She told me, "That makes sense, considering..." And then began to list the circumstances that have surrounded me the last few months. My father has an aggressive and rare form of cancer that he's currently battling. I've been deeply disappointed by a close friend of mine. I've had a conflict with extended family that has kept me awake and crying at night. I have a two-year-old who's the size of a one-year-old, which has led to an appointment with a specialist in the next few days. And I have a book that's due to my editor in a few weeks. With all of the above sitting on my shoulders, it's been the hardest book I've ever written.

As Roseanna and I talked about our mutual lack of motivation right now, she said the old adage to both of us. "Butt in chair, and all that."



Rule One: Show up


Yes, I thought when she said that, I'm at least doing that. 

All semester long, when my family has been hit by one stressful situation after another, I have maintained my butt-in-chair discipline that's so crucial to creating. I have shown up.

Even when you don't feel like it. Even when it truly feels like your life is crashing around you, as mine has often felt these last few months, the discipline of just showing up every day will help you, as Shannon so beautiful put it, to create an author and not just a story.

But my bigger issue has come after I put my butt in the chair.

Rule Two: Be Authentic


I recently had the chance to visit  the Georgia O'Keefe museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Georgia O'Keefe is famous for her paintings of large flowers and skullssometimes painted togetherbut I was surprised by many of her other subjects. Skylines of New York City, where she lived for a long time. Mount Fuji. Churches in the southwest. Views from airplanes. The inside of a tent, looking out.

Something struck me as I was there at the museum, and then again as I sat here at my computer thinking, "I'm too run down to put a blog post together." Georgia O'Keefe did not try to divorce her art from her life. Rather, her life informed her art. The art was created from the riches and trials of her life, not separate from it. When she was in the southwest or reminiscing about it, that was reflected in her art. Same as when she was in New York, or anywhere else.

Yet I have tried so hard to keep my messy, stressed-out self off the page, off the blog, and off social media.
I wanted to leave all that stuff outside my office door and create worlds that were independent of what I'm currently going through. Today I wanted to bring you neat, easy-to-follow, pinnable writing advice, but all I feel capable of right now is shrugging at you and saying, "I don't know either."

Last summer, a darling young writer put her copy of The Scorpio Races into my hands. "I would like your signature and your number one piece of writing advice."

I kinda froze, to be honest. Many other Big Deal writers had already signed the book, including Stiefvater herself. I wanted to write something really good, especially because I know and like this young writer, and she'd asked me to put my thoughts on the page there with other YA authors I love and admire. If I remember right, I wrote something about, "Follow your curiosity" which is advice from Elizabeth Gilbert.

I knew it was the wrong choice even as I wrote it, and I've thought about that moment many times since then. "Follow your curiosity" is fine writing advice, but it's not my number one. I mean, I hadn't heard it until this spring, and somehow I had managed to be a happy writer for over a decade, so how could it be number one?

If I could have that moment to do over again, I would write this in her book:

Show up.

Be authentic.

Repeat daily.

That's a recipe for creating art—for creating a lifethat matters. Not just showing up sometimes, or occasionally being authentic. But showing up faithfully, being authentic always, and repeating the process every stinking day.


25 comments:

  1. A very inspiring post! I've had a rough fall as well, so this came in the nick of time! Thank you for sharing, even though you're going through a difficult time. A lot of people need to hear this. I'm praying that you are able to find peace during this difficult time.

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    1. Sarah, thank you so much. I hope whatever has made your fall so challenging is resolved soon.

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  2. Hugs, Stephanie! This IS a beautiful, Pinnable post BECAUSE you followed your own advice. You showed up. You were authentic. And that caused you to produce something more amazing and touching than ever. I'm so sorry for the struggles you've been going through, but just remember that the enemy tries to attack us right before a major victory. Keep pushing on--even as impossible as I know that sounds--and know I'm praying for you.

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    1. Taylor, what a thoughtful and encouraging response :) Thank you!

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  3. Taylor said it best, Stephanie! This was a great post because you followed your own advice! I thank you for sharing your struggles in writing and life and how they intersect. It is encouraging to me as a young author to know that all authors have their struggles. That life and writing is hard to balance for others too. I just want to say that I've always appreciated your honesty in your writings and blog posts. You're an inspiration to me, Stephanie, and you have my prayers!

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    1. Megan, thank you so much for your kindness! I'm so fortunate to belong to such a great community.

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  4. I understand how life really interweaves into and through are writing... I feel hard times like you are experiencing actually help us to write deeper. I do hope though that everything you are dealing with works itself out through God's will. Thank you for this post!

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    1. Thank you, Keturah. The family slogan we've adopted this semester is "Life is hard AND God is good." We know that even when things don't work out the way we want them too, He still is taking care of us.

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  5. I had a paper to write this weekend, and it was really difficult for me. I felt like it had to be perfect, and that blank page stared me down and won. So I wrote my outline using insults to the topic and "because reasons" and "the thing that does the other thing." It actually helped! Writing the way you know how is really the key to everything, as long as you edit really hard!
    Anyway, that's my "be authentic" story.

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    1. Ooh, I've got to try that. Essays always come hard for me.

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    2. Love it, Sada! Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Ah, this is so good. I'm in the same boat--I'm battling a chronic fatigue illness, I'm slammed with all my part-time jobs (mostly freelance writing), and literally every single one of my close friends is going through a life crisis. To be honest, I haven't written fiction in months. So thanks for this advice today!

    Hailey
    www.haileyhudson.wordpress.com

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    1. Hailey, I'm so sorry to hear that :( I hope you start feeling better soon!

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    2. Wow, it sounds like you have more reason than a lot of us to identify with struggle. Keep plowing forward, and thank you for sharing! I just said a prayer for you and will write myself a note so my forgetfulness won't interfere with the privilege I have to intercede for you. I may not be able to appreciate the extent of your struggle, but I can empathize.
      God bless!

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  7. I love the honesty in this post. It speaks to the real-life side of creativity that we're all going to deal with one way or another, at any point in a writing career. Thank you for your transparency, and for passing on such necessary advice!

    Blessings,
    Alicyn

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    1. Thanks, Alicyn. You're right. We're all going to go through seasons where writing is hard for some reason or another. We have to learn how to push through!

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  8. Thanks for these vital rules. Small but mighty words! Love Shannon's observation about creating authors as well as stories.

    Praying for you and your family!! Thanks for lowering the mask we all wear to pretend all is well but to do so be exhausting and stressful in itself. We are all here for you. :)


    TTFN, God bless, Anne Marie :)

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    1. You guys are the best! I'm lucky to belong to such a safe community :)

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  9. Sometimes it's posts like these that stand out most. Thank you for being vulnerable with us. I'll be praying for you and your family!

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  10. Wow, I had no idea you were struggling, Mrs. Morrill. It sounds like teenagerdom all over again for you. :P I'll be praying that God will bring you through stronger and cleanse you from the harsh residue of the experience. Thank you for sharing with us and helping us feel less alone in our own trials. God bless!

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  11. Thank you for your honesty - and for such relevant and helpful advice! I really appreciate all that you do (all three of you!) here on GTW!

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  12. Thank you so much for this honest and inspiring post! It's hard sometimes, especially when you feel like the point of writing is to create new worlds that don't have to be touched by the awfulness in the real one. But it's like you said, they can't not be touched by it. All of what we experiences, the good and the bad, is what informs and creates our art. So no matter what we try, we'll never actually be completely separate from it.

    Thanks again for this wonderful post! I"ll be praying for you and your family. :)


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbosityreviews.com

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  13. Sometimes thank you seems like the only necessary thing to say. Thank you.

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