top of page

There's Good Stealing and There's Bad Stealing

Recently I came across Austin Kleon's little book Steal Like an Artist and then stumbled across his on-line blog. For some time, I'd been reading scattergun and castigating myself for being superficial, uncommitted, undisciplined and lacking direction while my manuscript languishes in the birth canal. Been there before? Well, reading that little book convinced me, that as artists and writers, we need to get over it and get on with it. Taking stock, I gave myself a good shake and decided to get real. To quote Glenn O'Brien from Kleon's book, we all 'start out as a phony and become real'. A prominent publisher recently reminded me that although I had spent a relatively modest length of time on my manuscript Motherlands, I had actually been laying out the pieces over a number of years.

Serious chess players don’t punish themselves for not making a move. They deliberately work the plays in their head. An artist or a writer works not only in their head, but they work their heart and their sensory world too. But how to corral all these elements? It's called giving yourself permission, allowing the elements to settle, giving your art time to ripen.

Film-maker David Lynch, has some helpful advice. 'This idea comes to you, you can see it, but to accomplish it you need what I call a 'setup'. For example, you may need a working shop or a working painting studio. You may need a working music studio. Or a computer room where you can write something. It's crucial to have a setup, so that, at any given moment, when you get an idea, you have the place and the tools to make it happen. If you don't have a setup, there are many times when you get the inspiration, the idea, but you have no tools, no place to put it together. And the idea just sits there and festers. Over time, it will go away. You didn't fulfill it -- that's just a heartache'.

Prominent writers may be seen working in cafes or libraries, but there is nothing like having an actual work post or a quiet space. As for me, limited by a modest space, my partner and I do a little dance respecting each other’s space and I have actually organised an ergonomic table and standing stool. I’ve also promised myself I’ll look into the Wheeler Centre. The fertile hours around dawn, those hours when I am woken by creative streaming, often provide me with a “setup.” Elizabeth Jolley worked at night on her kitchen table. Australian literary legends Charmian Clift (Leonard Cohen’s mentor) and George Johnston led lives awash in ouzo and wine, the distractions of the Greek island of Hydra, three active children and an entourage of fellow-artists. Yet each day when they had chased the children off to school or down to the beach, they cleared the deck and worked in disciplined fashion all morning, every morning. Without fail. Centering yourself can help and years ago I diligently followed Julia Cameron’s The Artist's Way. While it did affirm my right to be an artist and writer, and it did get the juices flowing, in the end it was Isabel Allende who made me do it. I heard her in my head. She told me to be brave, to confront the blank page every single morning. And it really works. Indeed, the most helpful mantra for me was her, 'Turn up, turn up, turn up to the page'. The blank page can be terrifying for an artist or a writer. So start by blocking it in. If you paint, fill in the background spaces first. If you write, scatter random words and sentences on the page but stay with the page. Reflect and let it settle. Ask yourself, what is your purpose?

And scattergun reading or acquisition of ideas and inspiration has its merits too. As you can tell, I’m a fan of Isabel Allende, Margaret Atwood, Allan Bennett, Laurie Lee and Charmian Clift. Lately I’ve been reading the electrifying work of Téa Obreht (The Tiger’s Wife) and Inga Clendinnen (Tiger’s Eye). But recognising good, authentic writing does not mean that you will manage to do this yourself. Whereas your Voice is central to the power of your writing, it is all too easy to fall into the pit of Self-Indulgence believing that your writing is as thrilling for others to read as it is for you, the author, who is up to your neck in that particular bubble bath. It's a balancing act between your passion and inspiration, and having the discipline to curb your urges. OK then, this is the deal. We’re in it for the Long Haul as Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love) pointed out. It's about just doing it, day after day after day after day.

I must be the last person on the planet to come across the blog of Austin Kleon, author of the little gem, Steal Like An Artist. Fellow creatives: do yourselves a favour if you haven't already. Grab a copy, or sign up for his blog or CLICK here: TedTalk Better still, join a writers' group, too -- like the World Writers Collective. Then sally forth and 'Do good work and share it with people'--Austin Kleon. Just do it.

COPYRIGHT: Magz Morgan 2018

You can also find me on:

Featured Posts
Check back soon
Once posts are published, you’ll see them here.
Recent Posts
bottom of page