I in the middle of writing a book proposal, well, actually two book proposals. One is for a collection of essays, the other for a *shap inhale* novel (perhaps a novella). I realized a few months ago that most of my short fictional stories are really about the same person/people, so I am going to try my hand at a novel over the next couple of years. The book proposal for the novel is more for me than anyone else (a game plan, if you will), but the proposal for the collection of essays is one I’d like to show to an agent sooner rather than later.
As I’ve been writing the proposal for the collection of essays, I’ve frequently scolded myself for not staying more focused in terms of topic choice. As it stands, the essays I’ve written (some published in various venues) are incredibly diverse in their subject matter, which makes it hard to shape them into a cohesive collection. What I’ve discovered is that I need to select the ones I feel represent my best creative self (and correspond to one another somewhat), and then put the fingers to the keyboard and crank out others to compliment what I already have.
If you follow my writing on this blog, the range of topics here is indicative of the types of things I enjoy writing about. It’s certainly not a “cohesive concept” blog– “musings on language, images and life” is about as broad as you can get. From a business standpoint, diversification (translation, travel writing, editing, academic writing, curriculum writing, etc.) has been crucial to accomplishing my goal of making a full-time income as a freelance writer. However, lately I’ve been feeling like my artistic self needs to buckle down and choose a topic, or at least choose a genre.
To distract myself from the fact that I felt unfocused as a writer (like how that works?), I decided to was time to read, to replenish, to fill the creative coffers if you will. I eagerly plunged into Patti Smith’s Just Kids. As I entered deeper into her memoir, I became enthralled by passages describing Patti and Robert (Maplethorpe)’s diverse interests and creative manifestations from collage to poetry to photography to jewelry-making to fashion to installation art. The fact that they spent so much time cultivating such diverse skills suddenly made me feel much better. Patti eventually became famous for her music and poetry and Robert for his photography, but the journey they went on as artists was filled with forays into other creative media.
Conventional wisdom tells us to pick a skill (often to the exclusion of all others) and practice it as much as we possible can in order to master it. But creative wisdom often tells us differently. It tells us to let go, to create what comes to us, to play, to branch out, to emerge. I went back and reread some of my favorite essays last night. It’s true, from a marketing standpoint the collection “as is” would never fly. However, I gained a new appreciation for my body of creative work. In my essay on Frida Kahlo I saw vestiges of my personal meditations on the maternal; in my essay on immigrant art I came across phrases that were indicative of my interest in and research on the creative process as it applies to writers. I realized that, in many cases, I couldn’t have written one essay without the other, even if the topics were very different.
When running my business, it’s OK (and desirable, to some extent) for me to dictate my path, to try my hand at a variety of genres (some more interesting than lucrative, some more lucrative than interesting) to accomplish my goal of being a self-funded writer. However, as an artist, I need to allow myself let go and continue to follow where the muse leads. More importantly, I need to accept that this won’t be a direct path. For me, this is the only way I know how to explore, to push the boundaries, to thrive.