16 | On creativity & ego

As in: what's so bad about an ego?

I’ve spent the past few days in an Airbnb cottage near Georgian Bay, not officially Ontario cottage country but from where I sit I can see nothing but cornfields and trees and hear nothing but crickets, so to me it feels cottage country.

Over the years my husband and I have been spending our summer cottage week in different places in the province, trying to find the one that feels best for us. This is our second time in South Bruce Peninsula, and I think it strikes a good balance for us. Far from home but not too far. Remote but not too remote. Quiet but not too quiet. The last time we were in this area, I spent hours on our cottage’s back deck, lounging and reading. This time it’s a different cottage and a different back deck and I split my time between the deck and the living room, but either way I’m writing. I’ve got my head absolutely swimming with the novel I’m working on, and I find that the silence and cornfields are necessary for the mental state I’m in. I need anchoring in the real world right now or else I might float off into the stratosphere.

I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic in 2017, when I was a few months away from finishing the first draft of The Quiet is Loud. In it, Gilbert writes that it’s “only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.” As I wrote in my blog post about it at the time:

Thinking of creativity as collaborative effort between me and the idea itself makes it somehow more exciting to me. It helps me to understand why working on a project on a regular basis, giving it the attention it deserves, can yield some fantastic results.

In the years that followed, a lot has changed in my creative life - the publication of my first novel being the biggest thing. And now that I’m working on my second and third and can clearly see how I’ve improved as a writer, I’ve never been more excited to create. At times I can actually feel something close to what Gilbert writes about - like I’m collaborating with the novel itself in co-creation. It really feels like a strange superpower sometimes. I’m impatient to finish. I’m impatient for people to read it. I’m impatient for my work to touch hearts and stir minds or stir hearts and touch minds, whatever works. I want my work to give people a positive emotional response. I want my work to endure long after I’m gone. I want to be known for something.

Then I feel silly for thinking that.

Then I think: why the fuck should I feel silly for thinking that?

I mean, I have some theories. Lifelong conditioning to be humble and self-deprecating about pursuits that don’t further a capitalist society, for one. Well, that’s probably the biggest one. A millionaire business owner can brag about their visionary success in disrupting whatever all day long, but if a writer (or artist, or musician, or dancer, etc etc) attempts the same thing, they’re shallow and vain.

There’s a difference between ego and arrogance, I think. it would be arrogance for me to claim that right now I’m the best writer I will ever be. Or that I’m objectively more talented than my peers. I know I’m not the writer for everyone, and I know I can still get way better. But what’s wrong with wanting to leave a legacy with your art? What’s wrong with believing that your work has a message you want to share with others?

Objectively it’s wacky. Do I want to make my readers cry sometimes? YES. And on paper that makes me sound like a MONSTER. But I can’t deny that I derive pleasure from creating an emotional connection like this. Isn’t that the entire purpose of art?

One of the most surreal experiences I had as a debut author was reading professional reviews of TQIL, and seeing that all of the ideas and questions I explored in my book were actually noticed and commented on by people. I know that might sound like a “No shit, Sherlock” moment, but writing a book is so solitary, so intensely immersive, that it can feel like, well, this:

^ How solid my book’s themes and ideas feel as I’m writing vs how they feel when other people read it.

It’s incredibly validating to know that other people identified the key elements of my book without me telling them what they were. Again, this sounds so obvious now, but seeing people engage with my work in this way made me feel like maybe I actually can really play this thing (read: my book didn’t end up as nonsensical soup), and that people gave a shit about what I wrote.

Now don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t love being a super-famous author who everyone expects to Say Important Things About Issues. That would make me break out in hives, actually. I don’t believe that anything I write about is revolutionary (even if it is literally about revolution). I just think that I’m a good writer and I there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, the thought of someone finding value in my work is what keeps me going sometimes, and part of what makes writing so much fun. Maybe collaborating with my novel’s idea helps that along too - it’s not just me inventing things. I’m merely a conduit for the idea to manifest itself.

PS: News!

I know, ending with the news is gauche, but here we are. The German edition of The Quiet is Loud has been released! My copies are still on the way so I can’t show it off yet, but I can show you a really pretty Instagram post and the really pretty cover:

The above doesn’t show the post’s caption but I had to use Instagram’s translate feature to read it, which I find very cool. Some people are reading my book in a different language (thank you to translator Diana Bürgel! Translators are really brilliant - talk about creativity!). That is something that also scrambles my brain in the most amazing way.

Thanks for reading,
-Sg.

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