Finding a Voice by Killing Your Darlings
Posted on August 3, 2014
As you may have read in last week’s Sunday blog post, I just returned from my honeymoon, and the trip helped reawaken the artistic spirit. Paris and Barcelona were an inspiration, but now that I have had this great revelation — or reawakening — what the hell does that mean? Yes, I have a new profound interest in photography, and I’m rededicated to writing stories, poetry, and other creative projects in the small amount of free time that I actually have, but what’s the goal? What’s the plan? How do I ensure that the revelations I had during my honeymoon don’t become a faded out dream like an old photo of a friend that I’ve stashed away in a box underneath my bed and pulled out years later only to say: “Oh yes, I remember him.” I’ll explain what I mean below while sharing some more photos from the honeymoon.
Kill Your Darlings
The first step is the hardest: Kill your darlings. As I’ve mentioned, when I left graduate school and moved to California, I had a bunch of writing — a novel in stories and a collection of poetry — and I truly believed in these pieces. Some of them have been published but others have not. So after some difficult examination — and yes, a four-year opportunity to reflect — I’ve decided it’s time to move on. I went back into my collection of poetry and just started deleting poem after poem (keeping some), realizing that I must start over. My novel in stories: well, I’m not even going to look at that for a bit more but try to reimagine the themes and the stories new. For now, they’re in the trash.
This has been incredibly difficult, and it’s the artistic equivalent of having an identity crisis. Basically, I’m trying to define what I hope to look and feel and sound like through my writing, and I’m going trough the painful act of destroying the old parts that don’t seem to work anymore. As if I’m throwing the digital strips of my past into the furnace, I can hear a voice calling out to be saved. I want to reach into the digital fire and save them (it’s so easy to recover deleted documents in the Internet age), but I have to admit that my writing wasn’t working in the way I wanted it to…that’s not easy…though there is clearly much worse out there.
I’m thinking of something I heard about Franz Kafka right before he died. He was on his deathbed, and he asked his friends to burn all his manuscripts and his journals. Of course, his friend didn’t listen, and he went and published them anyway. I wonder if I would have the courage, if none of my work wasn’t actually backed up anywhere, to throw an entire manuscript in the fire, to watch it burn and become ash, to watch a part of myself disappear.
I’ve read stories about men and women who walked away from everything they know, from their families, from their states, from their homes, to pursue something different, perhaps important, and that type of permanence, that type of goodbye, is terrifying. I’m watching the Leftovers right now after reading Tom Perrotta’s book, and The Guilty Remnant amaze me as characters. Basically, after the rapture had taken away about a third of the population and people just disappeared, The Guilty Remnant are a group of people who left all their family members to join a new type of organization that believe the rules and social norms of the past were dead: family, friends, work, health. To say goodbye to something that was such an integral part of your life, to explaining your world, seems like one of the most difficult tasks, and it’s a decision, to say goodbye intentionally or unintentionally, that can happen in an instant.
Look at It From Another Angle
There is something else I learned about the act of changing a creative project, and the lesson has presented itself through photography and journalism. The photo above was taken on Bastille Day in front of the Eiffel Tower. It was the most amazing fireworks display I had ever seen. Sorry America. The fireworks were shooting straight out of the Eiffel Tower, and they were timed to accent the rhythms and the music being pumped into the air. Even the colors of the fireworks matched moods in the music. It was a true spectacular. I was having a very difficult time taking photos of the fireworks, however, because I didn’t have my tripod and couldn’t keep steady long enough to keep my shutter speed open and still capture crisp shots. So I pumped up the Iso. They came out decent but noisey, and they weren’t the quality I wanted. So I decided to just look at the photo differently, and I cropped it and suddenly the fireworks looked like pieces of wheat growing out of a steel Earth. That’s the photo above.
The same thought went into the photo above. I wasn’t quite getting the photo I wanted, so I just decided to find another angle. This is a skill I learned as a journalist: how to approach the story from different angles depending on the information you have at hand or the direction you want the story to go. Well, it’s something that I’m taking into my creative life. How can I look at the work I’m creating from the appropriate vantage point? Right now, I’m in an airplane flying above the middle of America on my way to a conference in Baltimore. A different angle can mean something so incredibly large — or it can mean just a slight variation. I have dozens of stories, dozens of journal entries, countless scenic sketches, hundreds of ideas — now it’s about finding the right angle to breathe life into the process. I’m thinking about an interview I conducted with a photographer named King Lawrence. He said, anyone can take a picture, but it’s the idea behind it that counts.
Finding a Voice
Finally, after all of this tearing up and destroying the old pieces of writing, I’m starting fresh and searching to finally define my voice. I’ve always felt I had a pretty strong sense of my identity as a writer, but I’ve realized that I don’t. I need to keep on finding my voice — basically the vehicle for the stories that I need to tell. I’ve been traveling a lot since I was 17. I’ve lived in Detroit, Bradenton, Miami, DeLand, Long Beach, Los Angeles, some time in Europe, and each place keeps on changing me drastically. But my hometown, Clinton, Mass, is where I was raised. In my work, I call it Kilroy, but I need to return to my roots a bit. I need to set some stories in the place where my voice was initially crafted. And I need to spend some time in one place artistically, finding a true sense, an authenticity, to speak again, to write, to create. That’s my plan of action. More next week and some announcements soon.