Over at Brad Warner's blog there's a discussion of that old standby, the Right Way to Meditate. His take on it, as best I understand, is that the first mistake is assuming there's a right way, and the second mistake is assuming a right way can be taught rather than discovered independently.
I'm the same way about writing and creativity, and that's why I sometimes sound like I'm down so viciously on the how-to and the how-I-did-it literature. I think telling people "this is how you do it" is misleading, and telling people "this is how I did it" is not always much better, because they often misconstrue such things as instructions for how to do it themselves. What people need more than instructions, save for the most direct and technical ones (e.g., Strunk & White), is the freedom to try and fail (and succeed) as vigorously and thoroughly as they can. If you're going to fail, you need to fail all the way, so you know why something doesn't work, and then apply that back to what you do.
Well, maybe it's OK to give people a leg up, just to get them going in the right direction. That's fine, but I can never tell when that sort of thing becomes self-perpetuating, or when people see the example provided with the leg up as the only example to follow. Then you have someone who's very good at reproducing previous work, but not so good at producing anything that's theirs.
I get the impression a lot of people -- neophytes, mostly -- don't want to bother with a discovery process, with all of its messiness and dead ends and uncertainty. They want to go through a fixed set of steps that allows them to faultlessly produce a masterpiece -- or, better yet, turn them into a masterpiece-producing machine. They want to be handed a map that has a big red X on it. That's unfair to both them and everyone else who's ever created something, because the only place that X is going to be is right on their foreheads. You don't get this stuff from anywhere except by digging down inside yourself, then offering it to others and seeing what happens.
I have to be careful where I go with this, because I know there are a great many people who make perfectly good careers writing according to a formula or a prescription. My day job is a lot like that, and that's fine. I could no more take the bread from Jim Butcher's mouth or the meat from David Mack's table than I could unplug the stars. Not just because I couldn't write the books they do, but because at the end of the day, I don't choose to. This is about what I think is right for me, and if I sound like I'm making recommendations to others, it's only because I don't want people who secretly do want more to convince themselves it's better to settle for less.
The other last thing I want to do is give the self-indulgent an excuse for their self-indulgence. That's why I've tried to qualify all this with hints and nudges about how no matter what you settle on doing for yourself, the only way to make any of it real is to have an audience. Maybe it's not a big audience, but it has to be an audience, and it has to be a sincere one that's showing up for better reasons than to flatter you, or themselves.
Other Lives Of The Mind