May 2023: Making Art Is Sacred Work, Part 2

Folklore & Fiction

The May 2020 Folklore & Fiction dispatch has been recorded as a podcast, and you can both read and listen to it here. In it, I'm writing about folk customs with help from scholars Richard Sweterlitsch and Wayland Hand, author Naomi Novik, and friends Vigdís Andersen and Sveinn Svavarsson, among others. 

Making Art Is Sacred Work, Part 2

I'm halfway through the first draft of my dissertation and have an academic paper to write by the end of May, so this month's newsletter revisits a short blog entry I wrote eight years ago while meditating on the inner sources of creativity. I hope you enjoy it.

Before my beloved Winter passed away (that's her on the left), I began a blog post about creativity but never finished it. The post was so dry; 'received structures' and 'creative scaffolding' and such. I deleted the twisty thing, and good riddance.

Good writing is trance journey work. You travel in and down and out, unclutter your mind and soul with everybody else's stories until you find the ones you need to tell, there in the shapeless void. You mound-sit and speak with the dead about what they see from the walls of Helheim, across the river of swords, on the slender branches of Yggdrasil that touch the infinite night.

When you return, lungs breaking the rhythm of deep trance, the things that pour out of you have a shape unto themselves, often unrecognizable to anyone but you. These are the fundaments of genuine creativity, and it's your job to fashion them in a way that other people can understand. That's what creative scaffolding is for; three-part story structures, plots that rise to a climax and fall in denouement, sympathetic characters and such.

Used gently, this scaffolding doesn't get in the way of the work, and what emerges is a thing fashioned of you, the journey, whatever you found on the road and just enough literary architecture to give your readers a door into what you've done. Contrast this process with stories that begin with received structures on too-sturdy creative scaffolding and become, for instance, post-apocalyptic romances with plucky but self-conscious heroines who have tormented boyfriends with dark pasts.

Which will sell much faster than your thing because people love familiar patterns. That's okay. Make the journey anyway and shape what you bring back. We need the unfamiliar. It shows us what we've never seen before. It helps us think and behave differently. Story is power, and in the hands of an inner traveler it shapes the world.

There. That's what I meant to say. Harder to do it. Luck to us all.

Dispatches from the Word Mines

My dissertation stands at just over 40,000 words, and I think that's worth reporting!


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