You don’t own the magic, is what I mean to say—all your craft, all your carefully studied sentence structures, diction choices, plot diagrams—with all that, you can’t make someone be immersed in your story (in your poem, in your philosophy.)
What are the laws of good speaking, the laws of good writing? What can I do to guarantee fame, fortune, or critical acclaim? What words must I learn? What are the new narrative modes? Should I be brief or verbose, simple or complex? Should I tell stories like Wallace or Pynchon?—filling thousand page volumes with stream-of-consciousness prose; or, rather, like Hemingway?—easy on the reader: short, profound, and to the point? Should I write my poems like Shakespeare or Milton?—mimicking the great founders of the western canon. Perhaps Wilde? Or, rather, should I write like Rupi Kaur or Keaton Henson?—poeticizing the everyday in the language of the everyday. These writers who have gained audiences, some for all time and some for a mere generation, what was their secret? How did they find the formula of success? (Spoiler: there isn’t one.)
In a world of critics, what place has art? Who can you fool with rhetoric, when the whole world already knows rhetoric? How do we get someone to suspend their disbelief, their knowledge of our construct? How can we but to ask them to do so?
All art forms, including writing, wish they were autonomous, wish that they could ensure their affects as do physical forms of practice ensure their effects, but they cannot. You ask. You receive an answer—that is all.
We hate those with no artifice who ask and get a positive response because they dared to be simple, invest their simplicity with imagination—and for all our craft, none would do the same for our complexity. We felt that we deserved acclaim, felt that we deserved—based on our product—an audience for it.
“I am entitled to your imagination! Do you see how I have labored for novelty? Suffered for complexity? Mined for insight?”
No one is entitled to imagination, to investment, to an audience. When you realize this, when you realize that nothing you do can guarantee arts’ success—and you still wish to be an artist—then you will be one, truly. Your imagination is yours to spend. Your creation is yours to love. As for others? All you can do is ask.
I had written a story, one I was quite enamoured with, and a few others, upon reading it, were equally enthusiastic. I felt then, for those few moments, like a “real writer”; upon the validation of others, I could see in my work something beyond the words, beyond the artifice—I saw through it into something imagined. I felt I had achieved something, reached some milestone wherein others would now recognize the fruits of my labors, support my endeavors, and see no folly in my aspirations. But, upon further editing, I fell back into the role of a critic—seeing poor word choice, construction errors, over pretentious concepts etc. My imagination had disinvested the story, and so I saw only the form which was supposed to evoke, lifeless and ineffectual before the scalpel of my reason. To improve craft, it is no doubt necessary to switch into the mode of the critic, to see your own writing how your worst reader would see it. (By worst, I mean most critical to the point of bad faith—willfully trying to stay above the content to scrutinize the form.) But, if we become trapped in the role of ‘writer’, if we cannot see our own work in the eyes of our best readers—those in good faith, who want to invest, want to be swept away—how can we hope to survive as ‘artists’ in a world of critics? How can our craft survive even our own criticism if it is deprived of our own love?