I seem to have become a reviewer, even, dare I say it a critic. I can’t quite figure out how it happened, but looking over my output for the last while a great deal of it has been in the form of either book or CD reviews, with the occasional DVD thrown in for good measure.
I have to admit that part of it can be laid at the feet of the kid in the candy store syndrome; all of a sudden being presented with so many goodies that you grab a little of each. Not only does Blogcritics.org make available to its writers a whole slew of material for review, I have started receiving requests from publicists to review their people, and I have developed the audacity to approach major publishing houses for review copies of books in which I am interested. In any give week that means I could have as many as five posts being review material only.
At first this became a bit of cause for alarm in my head; how will writing so many similar articles affect me stylistically, creatively, and etc. etc. ad nausea – the usual insecure writer stuff that distinguishes the unpublished from those with bylines and titles to their credit and that fuels late night, lying awake in bed, worry sessions. It’s nights like those when you start to remember all the nasty things you’ve ever heard said, or have said yourself, about reviewers and critics. “Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, review”. Thoughts like that are not what I’d call conducive to feeling positive about my abilities.
I feed myself the standard argument that writing is writing, and anything you do is good practice. But, I rebut, there’s only so much you can learn from doing the same type of thing over and over again until it becomes formulaic and stifling. But, I reply, isn’t it the sign of a good writer that he or she can do things to make the familiar fresh? That’s not the point, I argue back, it’s the way it begins to shape your thinking process, which will confine your brain to thinking in terms of analysis only. What’s that got to do with being a creative artist?
So now the truth comes out, it’s the old argument of it’s not art if it’s not a work of literary fiction, or a work of pure, virgin inspiration. That’s it isn’t it? Idiot. Weren’t you the one talking about how inspiring it was watching and listening to that Willy DeVille DVD, Live In The Lowlands. Aren’t you the same guy who’s written reviews praising people for making you want to pick up pen and paper and producing work?
I can keep this argument going indefinitely in my head, always finding a way to diminish the validity of critical analysis as a form of expression. When I’m in that sort of mood there’s just no arguing with me. I just have to hope I’ll come to my senses in a while, and listen to reason. You know what these folk with artistic pretensions can be like though; sometimes they can’t see the damned woods for the trees.
For some reason I was just reminded of the Monty Python’s move The Holy Grail. There’s a character, a Prince, whose father is trying to marry him off, and he keeps saying, “But Father, I only want to sing.” Practical, real world considerations have no place in his life, he’s an artiste who shouldn’t have to sully himself with life’s dirty little messes.
You can make yourself quite the object of ridicule easily enough as it is without acting the pea brain in public or even in private. I can guarantee that during my ‘But Father, I only want to sing’ moments that I’ve completely forgotten what the purpose of writing is, and why I wanted to start writing in the first place.
Writing is simply a means of communication; ideas, emotions and anything else that we humans desire to express are fodder for the writer. Communication can be achieved through telling a story, composing a poem, writing an essay or research paper around an idea, or telling people your thoughts on a specific subject matter in an editorial piece.
The creativity comes into play via how you approach your means of expressing your theme or idea. Humans have been telling each other stories since we developed a language beyond grunts. In order to keep our audiences listening we’ve learned how to embellish basic facts like “I killed a big Mastodon on the hunt” To a blow-by-blow account which could include having to fight off a sabre tooth tiger for the carcass, how closely you came to being gored, and any number of other exciting bits of colour that would be guaranteed to keep folk interested.
Not much has changed except an increase in the variety of ways that we have of embellishing a story. It shouldn’t matter whether we are writing a story, a review, or anything else, the only thing that confines creativity is our willingness to allow a preconceived notion of how something is supposed to be dictate what we do.
There is creativity involved in finding different ways to approach a task. As long as you are able to complete the objective of communicating the relevant information anything you write becomes an artistic creation.
When you are in the situation I’m in, writing because I want to and publishing to the Internet, the freedom is there to reinvent structure as you go. The only thing limiting me is a lack of imagination on my part created by old prejudices and forgetting my purpose.
For me to tell myself that I’m not being creative because I’m not writing fiction or poetry is as ridiculous saying I’m not sleeping because I’m laying on a couch instead of a bed. Someday I may even grow up enough to believe that.