I had the pleasure of getting to a few readings Labor Day weekend for the 2012 Decatur Book Fest, and something that was said at the end of the first one has stuck with me. It was the 10:00 panel, Poets on Prose, featuring Barbara Hamby, David Kirby, Alan Shapiro, and Tom Lux. The approach was for each of these four to riff on the idea of the relationship between the two forms of writing from poets (primarily) who do–or have done–both kinds. A lot of cool thoughts were floated out there involving everything from the “tension” between the two types, the blurring of boundaries, the different brains and places where each form of writing comes from (and what that even means), as well as particular aspects of each form and styles and trends that seem to have occurred within and between verse and prose. It can be a fun, and also irritatingly endless, topic to discuss.
One thing, in particular, however was said at the very end by Tom Lux. It was almost off-the-cuff. He simply said, “You know, in the end, you only have so much creativity. It’s all a matter of how you want to spend it.” I paraphrase. He may have said, “In the end you only have so much creative power.” Anyway, it may seem like a pragmatic, fairly obvious statement, and I suppose it is. But something about it sticks with me, whether as a reminder or deeper realization of a basic truth. You know, as I think about it, maybe it also has something to do with creativity in general and all the rhetoric out there about how there are “no limits.”
We have limits of time, and limits, naturally, of creative focus.
I admit I’ve sometimes had trouble finding deep and unadulterated focus. Even within writing just think: You can be (A) literary or (B) commercial. Choose (A) and you can still be writing: (1) poetry (what kind?); (2) fiction: (a) short stories or (b) novels. (3) nonfiction (a) memoirist or (b) personal essayist; (4) songwriter; (5) playwright, etc. (6) A blogger, too, of one kind or another. (7) Oh yeah, and daily Facebook Status Updater and/or Tweeter. Choose (B) and you can still be writing: (1) fiction: (a-z) which means a bazillion different genre-driven approaches for just about any reading audience you can think of; and same for nonfiction, especially along the hot-topic, information-based lines. Okay, you get the picture. We could break the respective categories down to finer and finer points, but the point is: all these niche-genres are merely within the choice of being a writer and/or writer-artist. And if you’re pretty good at even two or three of them? And if you really enjoy–even have a passion for–two or three? Are you diluting the overall efficacy of your creative power, output, and/or success by doing so? It’s true, we can think of a rare few who have two expressions that we value more or less equally, but for most, one expression is almost always clearly superior to the other.
Or, as they say, does one hand feed the other? Or is there really a freedom in being forced to choose? Certainly there is a recent breakthrough in creativity approaches, which focuses on the creativity that ensues through time constraints and forced choices. Or is simply more important to follow your passions and let the chips fall where they may? Well, who’s to say really? And here I am blogging when I should be niche-ing myself ever deeper into another round of edits for my novel. What does that tell you?