The Writing Life: reflections by a working writer. The Writing Life

Reflections of a working writer, a university screenwriting professor, and the editor of Oregon Literary Review.

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Charles Deemer

Oregon Literary Review

MFA, Playwriting, University of Oregon

Writing faculty, Portland State University (part-time)

Retired playwright and screenwriter.
Active novelist, librettist and teacher.

Email: cdeemer(at)yahoo(dot)com

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The Writing Life...
"An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's."
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After October 31, 2006,
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The Writing Life II

(Posts archived here are from 01/10/03 - 10/31/06)

Thursday, September 21, 2006  
A tempered arrogance
In the process through which students of writing become writers, a number of bench marks are reached along the way. One of the first things a student needs is validation of one's talent from a neutral source, which can be a teacher, an editor, a reader, but cannot be a spouse or friend (usually): someone with experience who can say, You have talent, it's your job now to nurture it. It's now the individual's job to learn craft and also to learn how to survive in the world at large, which is not always easy for an artist.

A great survival tool is arrogance. At the same time, arrogance can reach the extreme of blind hallucination, the writer thinking s/he is better than is true. This is especially dangerous when one gets good reviews of a work: it's easy to believe the press clippings. For example, I was once called, in the state's largest daily newspaper, "one of Oregon's most precious natural resources." The person who wrote this won't give me the time of day presently but that's another issue. Unfortunately, for a time, I believed the compliment, which did not help my growth as a writer any. But I got over it.

Similarly, bad reviews can be devastating. A writer must rise above them. I'd had my share. A play of mine was trashed here that went on to be a finalist for a prestigious award in Ireland, which may know more about drama than Portland ha ha. The point is, it's easy to get diverted into cultural traps that will only distract you from the work at hand. You have to become your own best/worst critic -- and to hell with everyone else.

One needs a tempered arrogance, faith in one's talent in the light of negativity but also humility in a larger context, realizing how many superior talents are out there (from whom one can learn!). In this regard, it can be inspiring to read certain "books of arrogance" by established writers, words that track their own journey from fear to confidence. Three of my favorite are Norman Mailer's Advertisements for Myself, Henry Miller on Writing and Ezra Pound's The ABC of Reading. Each had an important contribution to my own development. One outgrows these books but they can be essential at the time and one should never forget the debt to them. In fact, I'm going to reread them, which I haven't done in many years. It's always helpful to revisit roots.

9/21/2006 09:18:00 AM | 3 comments

Ireland... I am guessing you mean a certain one which opens with a violin being played (if you don't want to give away which it is).

I can understand why an American audience wouldn't like it. Wrote a play myself at the same time on the same subject. Got many awkward glances after the readings and was under suspicion for a long time, especially since I made a point of giving equal arguments and refused to give easy answers (sadly today's audiences expect easy answers or they'll believe the writer is siding completely with their opposition *sigh* )...

However this one is one of my faves of your dramatic output, and I am thankful you didn't get the same reactions I did.

Sooner or later, I'll do it LOL

Look what it did for Wagner LOL

Anyway, I do believe that in the marketing or pre-commission phase (depending on whether it is a spec or commission) the artist needs a certain amount of arrogance. This is for two reasons:

1) If one doesn't toot one's own horn, then who will? In the commission proposal phase, all colleagues are potential rivals, and then one gets into politics...

2) In the post-commission phase, your "interpreters" will want to walk all over you.

Of course, I think I'm getting cynical in my old age.
The very one. Who Forgives?
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