Big Guys vs. Little Guys in the Creative Process


“So, tell me about your process,” might be the most ill-advised conversation starter for a fact-based, left-brain type to put to right-brain, artistic types. If the non-artist, with a tendency for left-brain thinking, unwittingly enters into such a conversation, they’ll know the mistake they’ve about halfway through the artist’s answer. The smart ones walk away. Would that be rude? Yes, but it might end the self-mutilation fantasies.

Failure is a fundamental part of the right-brain’s artistic and creative process, but it’s not a dead end sign. It’s an obstacle, a lane closure sign, or a road flare that’s been placed there by others as a result of their failure. Elite, professional athletes experience failure more often than they succeed, 90% of startup businesses fail in ten years, and financial risk takers fail more often than they succeed. One of the primary differences between failure in art, and these other areas, is that most people will never see the artists’ failures, and they won’t want to see them. Artistic failure often occurs on a flea-ridden couch inside a dilapidated trailer park, never to leave. The artistic process involves failed starts, bad ideas, and love, that no one, other than the other artist, can see, appreciate, or understand.

“How do I create a great works of art?” a left-brained, fact-oriented individual might ask. You create. Every artist is different of course, but in my experience, nothing beats experience. The true artist should spend significant time in the corner of their trailer park home creating.

Are right-brain, creative types creating great works of art? Yes we are, every single time we create. Our friends and family might try to convince us that the piece we’re currently working on is a pile of dung, but we won’t know that for some time, if ever. We suffer from delusional myopia. We might eventually be able to see that one piece is better than another one is, but that doesn’t decrease the love we have for the other pieces that no one will ever want to read. The trick to evolving from a writer to an artist involves knowing when to move on.   

Harsh critiques hurt. Every time a reader tells us the project we’ve spent months on (at the very least) is not what we thought it was, it damages our interior organs. We pour our heart and soul into these pieces, and most of them aren’t very good. The dividing line between writers and artists rises here. Writers who cannot handle harsh critiques should probably quit the current job they applied for, because it gave them more time to write, and choose a career. (A poor Quality Review report is much easier to fix than trying to fix the ones we love.) If, however, that stinging critique feeds the competitive juices to create more dung, better dung, and so much dung that they eventually have enough material to mix it with the other necessary ingredients required to make fertilizer, they might be able to one day create a flower.  

When a left-brain, non-artist asks an artist about their process, they only want to talk about the flowers. If they unwittingly pushes the conversation deeper, don’t feel sorry for them when they start screaming for someone to help them out of that deep, dark cavern lined with the artist’s failures. They asked the question.

“If we want to know the fundamental elements of a serial killer,” criminal psychologists suggest, “we study their initial crimes.” The same holds true for writers. If the conversation starter really wants to know the road map of the artistic path, they’ll let the artist talk about the initial, unpopular particulars of the process.   

In that deep dark cavern, we’ll find some pieces that might have some appeal, but we’ll find that the artist stubbornly sought some angle they considered original. The other angle involves a tired theme on historical figures that serves to further a reader’s adoration of the subject. When we decide to tackle an article on an historical figure, however, we search for a unique angle that we feel analyzes them in a manner few have before. Originality is almost impossible to achieve, but it should always be the goal. Even if we adore the figures, we prefer to analyze them in a critical manner. The theme of this critique is that if we criticize an accomplished individual, there is an inherent compliment in there that we considered them worthy of critique.

The difference between writers and artists is a subjective one, of course, and it is a complex argument, but it might be as simple writers report on Big Guys and artists find little guys doing little things more appealing. Most of the characters on this sight are so niche, that they have trouble finding a niche. When the brilliant Seinfeld hit the airwaves, numerous friends recommended the show to us. “You have got to watch this show. This show is so you that you might be ticked off that they stole your whole mindset.” When we finally broke down and watched the show, the effect was everything our friends thought it would be. We were almost depressed a couple of episodes in. The observations that Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, and all of the other writers of Seinfeld made felt so familiar they almost felt familial. We enjoyed the material they displayed on Seinfeld and Curb your Enthusiasm so much that it almost felt like they beat us to the punch. They were funnier than we are, of course, but their acute focus on the minutiae of life depressed us, because we thought that if we learned how to channel that affliction properly that could be us up there.

Writers capture Big Subjects of national and worldwide interest, but the focus of this site is on the little things that a little guy did on his way to the apothecary. When we’re watching one of the Big Guys, on one of the Big Network shows, interview a Big Subject who fascinates the world, for example, we obsess over the “staged walk” the production staff put together before the interview started. In the course of the interview, the production crew will cue the shot of the subject at work. We have no problem with that, as it displays the subject doing what they do. Yet, every interview segment interrupts their broadcast again with a shot of the man or woman of interest exiting their office and walking down the sidewalk. Why do we have to see this subject of interest walk away from his office, down a sidewalk? Who was the first producer to introduce this shot? What value does it bring to the broadcast? We can’t get past these quirks, and they distract us so much that we miss much of what the subject says following the staged walk, and in most cases, we’re not that interested in what the celebrity/news figure’s script says anyway.

We’re obsessed with these otherwise irrelevant forms of manipulation. Does the production crew believe that these staged walks might develop some sort of familiarity with the subject? “There he is walking out of his office on an otherwise average day, just like I do, and look Donna, he walks just like I do when I don’t know anyone is watching.”   

The eye-catching pieces on something familiar generate clicks, but most of the subjects that intrigue us are difficult to headline. Of the few eye-catching subjects we’ve covered, we’ve often found a less than traditional angle. Our M.O. for doing this abides by the rationale that it’s almost impossible to write anything new, different, or original. “Everything that you want to say has already been said, and that’s been said before too.”  

We analyze the other side, the less popular side, of what drives our ‘so niche they can’t find a niche’ characters to be so different. We prefer a critical view that attempts to analyze a subject from a more objective (some might say cynical) angle that scrutinizes the subject in a more comprehensive manner.

This guy that we’re talking to in our employer’s cafeteria obviously knows how to present us with his most photogenic side, we think while he jibber jabbers, but what’s in the other side? Is there another side? Is there a side that might surprise him if we dig deep enough? When we present this other side, we want to avoid being critical for the sole purpose of being critical. We all have less attractive sides, and some of us accidentally slip into the notion that the only noteworthy angle to cover is the negative. Quality coverage of the negative can be so exciting and provocative. It also has the feel of being more artistic, poignant, and meaningful. Yet, being negative for the sake of being negative can feel as tedious as focusing too much on the positives. If we do it right, the positive and negative characteristics of their other side, the less than photogenic side, should leak out in the course of the narrative. The presentation should feel comprehensive and organic.   

The characters we write about aren’t weird for the sake of being weird either. They’re not in visible pain, and they’re not manic-depressive. They’re just a little off. If we were to calculate them by degrees, with 90 degrees being the perfect angle, they might fall between 80 and 85 degrees. They’ve spent their lives a couple of degrees away from being normal, and we can see it when they accidentally flash their less than photogenic side. We consider it our job to capture that side, be it positive or negative.

If we met them on the street, we might consider them the most normal joe we’ve ever met. They have normal haircuts, a wage that permits them to purchase the latest fashionable clothing, and their company’s dental plan allows them to appear upper middle class with 2.5 kids in a two-bathroom house. They don’t say the wrong things either, for they’ve watched as much TV as we have. They know the bullet points we’ve established for identifying abnormal people, in other words, and they know how to assimilate. Those of us in the middle of the pack seek the fringe. Those on the fringe seek the middle of the pack, so no one considers us on the fringe looking in on the normal world. We want in, and an overwhelming percentage of us are not comfortable with exposing the eccentricities that have kept us on the outside looking in.

To find the insecure and overcompensating weird, we need to talk to them. We need to find a way to spend long hours with them, usually in an office space, sitting next to them, talking about our wives, our lives, and our lawn. Affectations of weird don’t comfort them. It sets off their spidey senses. So, we have to be weird too, and we are weird. We all have eccentricities, and when we share our eccentricities, they feel more comfortable sharing theirs. We take an “I give you me, so you’ll give me you” approach to our discussion.   

They’re guarded. They don’t know we’re writers patching together a quilt, because we don’t know that yet. We’re just talking to them. They’ve been mocked before, however, and if we are are going to have an enriching conversation with them, we are going to have to help them over their hurdles and through the multi-tiered mazes they’ve created for rubber neckers wanting to witness their eccentricities for comedy. This isn’t a Herculean task, however, because they love to talk about themselves. Most of us do. Most of us enjoy it so much that those in our familiar nucleus are no longer interested in our story. They’ve heard our stories so many times that we fear we might not be as interesting as we are. When fate puts us next to a curious person who is so interested in what we have to say, it’s exciting. We find ourselves saying things we wouldn’t even say in the comfort of our bedroom. Our spouses might cringe when we say such things, but we’ve had these thoughts bottled up for so long, and we’ve never had a person this interested before, and we don’t want to disappoint them for that would be disappointing.

Our subject might not know it, but we are carving them up, removing the extraneous fat from their testimonial, deleting the painstaking details involved in proving a point, deleting their tired repetition, and even deleting them from their story. It surprises them when we do that, for as embarrassing and revealing as their details were, at least they were their details, and they didn’t expect to see themselves deleted. They thought it was all about them. The talker has no problem laughing at themselves, of course, but to see their moment of crisis turned into a danceable number is just beyond the pale.

The difficulty involved in selling such strange, unconnected, and relatively unimportant pieces to the masses arrives soon after completion. “What do we do with this?” we ask after we’ve completed the numerous edits necessary. There’s no unifying theme or connection between the pieces. “What do we do with this?” ends up personifying the beauty of each standalone piece and resulting in their ultimate and final condemnation.  

While we’re in the midst of writing one of these pieces, we feel this might be the reason we ended up on this planet. We feel complete in a way we never have before. We think we’ve finally realized our purpose in life, and the extent of our talent, and we live on that artistic high for days. The bizarre experiences we’ve had with the subjects covered in these pieces have been so unique, and in some cases so profound, that we couldn’t believe that no one covered the subject before. After people laugh at the observations, they say one of two things, “I never thought of that before,” and “I don’t find the subject near as interesting as you do.”

They also ask, “What are you going to do with this?” We know, even before they ask that, that there is no book-length dissertation available. These are short pieces. There’s not nearly enough information or material for a book, and there’s no unifying theme or connection between the pieces. This ultimate “What do I do with this?” realization that our purpose in life, our raison d’etre, is nothing more than a (“B”) word prove quite painful.

The realization that we can be a (“B”) word, a blogger, is quite thrilling at first, until it becomes a condemnation. Over the course of a decade, and over 1,000 blogs, we might figure out how to master the art form that used to be called an essay, that others call narrative non-fiction, and most now call the blog. (The reader should not assume that I consider myself a master of this domain when I use the word, but that I’ve figured out how to communicate my thoughts in this form properly.) Once we achieve some level of satisfaction with the form, however, some of us start to think bigger. We assemble a greatest hits package of our best, most read blogs and send them over to a publisher. “What do you want me to do with this?” will be the theme of the door slamming shut in our faces, and don’t bother trying to fit your foot in that door, for it’s reinforced by the “No one wants to read a book of blogs!” sentiment that arose after its limitations were exposed by the path to losing 85 pounds and the funny things my cat did on Tuesday blogs. I’ve read reviewers on Goodreads and Amazon critique other authors of some of my favorite books condemn them by saying, “This reads like a blog.” They write that in the most negative way possible, and it feels like a tiny nail being driven into my spine.

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I don’t know if it’s obvious by now, but I love writing these relatively inconsequential and irrelevant articles, and the fact that anyone (including you) might read one word I write sends warm and fuzzy messages to a very specific part of my brain that can lead to what they call a smile.

As proof of my unrequited passion, I now have an archive of over 1,000 blogs (some published, most shifted to the draft designation). As you read, go ahead and assume that I have obsessed over just about every word you read. I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time trying to figure out if ‘a’ or ‘the’ works best in a sentence, I’ve restructured some difficult passages numerous times, and I’ve completely overhauled most of the articles that I’ve published on this site. Some professional writers footnote an article with a note “Edited on [the date].” Are we supposed to do that? I wondered. If I were required to do that, just about every article on this site would have this notation.

Some writers believe we can over-edit an article. “Guilty!” I say with a raised hand. Some writers think that if we over-edit, we strip the spontaneous fun right out of an article. “Perhaps,” I say, “but I would rather strip the fun out of an article than have some fuzzy funny that the reader doesn’t understand because they’re not able to link the setup to the point, because they don’t know what is going on in my head.”  

I obsess over what I consider the fascinating and unique qualities of each piece. I love little more than tying such thoughts into a tight, cohesive, 1,500-2,000 word narrative, but most of these pieces are self-embodied dissertations. They’re blogs. So, enjoy them for what they are, as I apparently am not going to make one thin dime off them. Also, know, as you read this crass piece of self-promotion that I never wanted to write this. You forced it upon me with your stubborn refusal to read them. This post is on you!