On Writing As Folk Art

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2023-01-17 16:00:00-05:00 No comments

Sometimes I think the hardest part of being a writer, apart from the job itself, is not succumbing to the romanticized images we have in our heads about what this job means — in particular, what it means to be creative, and to what end.

People have weird ideas about what writers do and how they do it. They've always had such misconceptions, if only because anyone who has no idea what's involved in a particular line of work has delusions about it. (I can't imagine what most people think software developers do all day, for instance.) Most such delusions revolve around fame and fortune, but for me the most pernicious ones revolve around what creativity is or where it comes from — or what it's ultimately for.

I do think we are less beholden now — incrementally less, but still less — than we used to be to the idea that creativity is some kind of mystic quality that only certain elites are imbued with. It is easier now than it ever has been to learn how creativity is a practice and not a quality, and how to develop that practice. The only difference between me and someone less creative than me is a) the disinhibition to create and b) the discipline to engage in a refinement feedback loop. Both of those things are learnable and teachable skills. And when learning them and teaching them, I feel more of the emphasis should be on the doing of it for its own sake — the doing of it to satisfy ourselves and not some inherently unpleasable other.

I also think we are incrementally less beholden to the idea that creative activity means nothing if it isn't also a revenue- or reputation-enhancing activity. The idea that writing a novel means nothing if it doesn't become a best-seller is a low-to-middlebrow idea. That said, not every work produced in obscurity is a case of unfairly overlooked genius. But if these things are about the process and not the payoffs (as opposed to the results), that's different.

I see this manifesting most in places where creativity happens spontaneously — the fanfic sites, for instance. The ones who actually do it for their own pleasure, even if the results are never going to be widely read outside of the fandom, have a far healthier relationship to their work than people who try to self-consciously create prefab best seller products. Generations of writers and readers are growing up with a new kind of creative disinhibition, and I think that makes for healthier attitudes all around. We can make the kind of art we know we enjoy, and which we know a small but dedicated circle of others will enjoy, and commercial concerns can go hang.

I don't say these things because I think everyone who has a publishing contract (or makes a decent living pumping out product clone fiction) is a sellout or is missing the point. Rather, it's that those who create because they want to, the way they want to, are not children of lesser gods. They have nobody to please but themselves. And they have no need to make their work into something it was never meant to be. We need to celebrate what they do more often, and hold it up more proudly as an example to follow.

Tags: creativity creators writers