Sunday, July 22, 2007

Oh, to be young and dumb again

My son is a photography student at Parsons. Last night he got home from three weeks at a photo workshop in Maine, where he's gone for several years now. The workshop is attended primarily by adults and college students, but there is one designed specifically for high school students (which my son attended when he was in high school).

On the last night of each session, all the groups get together to view a slideshow of work by all the students. My son commented that the high school students had the best work, creatively.

Me: Really?

Him: Oh, yeah. That's the way it always is.

So that led to a discussion of why that was so. We both agreed that one reason that the high school students were creatively freer is because they didn't know enough to censor or judge themselves or to even think that much about how others will perceive their work. In addition, perhaps their lack of technical knowledge allowed them to be freer creatively - they didn't get all bogged down in the "rules" and the technical stuff.

That discussion made me think about my own creative work as a writer. While I know that I'm a more skilled writer now than when I first started, I also think that I haven't written as freely and "joyfully" as I did my first few books.

Back when I was new, I wasn't thinking about reviewers. I wasn't thinking about whether my books would be read in a classroom. I wasn't thinking about the "rules" of writing for children. I wasn't thinking so much about structure or pacing or worrying that much about whether the main character had grown enough, yada yada yada.

I just wrote.

I think those first books were the "purest" books I've ever written. And I know that they spilled out the quickest and the most freely.

Pure, un-self-conscious writing.

Interestingly, those earlier books required less revision than my later books.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying most writers don't get better with experience. I'm just wondering out loud, I guess, if sometimes the inexperience produces a purer form of creativity.

Does that make sense?

For example, to my naive surprise, I got some negative feedback about mild profanity in my first two books. That profanity came out without a thought - because, in my mind, it belonged there. It never occurred to me to not use it.

When I was working on my third book (Moonpie and Ivy), one of the characters (Ruby) has an argument with her sister. She says: Mind your own damn business.

That is exactly what that character would have said.

I stewed over that line. Should I leave the profanity in? Should I take it out?

Fortunately, I have a wise and wonderful editor. When I posed the question to her, she said to me, with a tinge of surprise in her voice: You're censoring yourself!

And she was right, of course. I was censoring myself.

Because I had more experience.

I was now thinking about how others were going to react to my work, rather than writing freely and purely and honestly. (By the way, I left that line in.)

There's a country western song by Toby Keith that goes:

I wish somehow I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

Amen, Toby.

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