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What Artistic Growth Looks Like

by Jonathan 0 Comments

Check out these two videos from Nathaniel Rateliff, one from 2010 and one from this year.

They’re both pretty damn good, right? That first one, though, Shroud, it’s pretty raw. Now, truth be told, I love music like this, but you can only get by on raw for so long. For an artist (writer, painter, musician) to endure, evolution is key otherwise the same old same old is just that. No matter how talented an artist might be, trotting out the same stuff year after year will eventually get stale.

Watching the second video, there’s still that rawness, but there’s a whole lot more going on, there’s showmanship, a true stage presence that wasn’t there before. Rateliff owns the stage. He’s gone from singer songwriter to full on entertainer. The music itself is testament to that fact as well. The song’s a complete effort by the band. And it’s glorious.

The beauty of growth is that not everyone’s going to like it, but it’s critical for the artist to keep on keeping on. Think of the Beatles or Bob Dylan or U2. Love ’em or hate ’em, they kept the flame alive by exploring their medium. Look at Picasso or Van Gogh or Rothko over time and you’ll see their work changing on different scales.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Rothko:

The progression of a painter’s work…will be toward clarity; toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer…to achieve this clarity is, inevitably, to be understood.

Five reasons you can’t let your first novel go

by Jonathan 0 Comments

Moving on by z0h3 over at Deviant Art (click link to visit page)


You believe in your first novel. You know it’s the best it can be right now.

And yet it is still raw in a way that cannot be undone no matter how much you revise.

Maybe the premise is a bit off or has lost its luster.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s not good enough.

And that’s fine.

You run it through the query process, get critiques, even get some feedback that it’s good, well-written, “market-ready.” And at last you send it out there and get little response other than form letters. You wonder if it’s the work itself, the query letter, the synopsis (all six versions of it), the agent or whoever is reading the query letters. You revisit all of it and try to make it better while worrying that you’re making it worse. You revise, identify the now-obvious boring parts, trim it down, make it leaner. And get ready send it out again.

And maybe this time should be the last. You’ve got other ideas, other word sculptures to make. So what’s holding you back?

Could be one of these:

  1. You’ve invested a ton of work into your novel and you can’t imagine it just sitting there on your hard drive unappreciated by anyone but you and the handful of people who’ve read it (well, some of them, anyway). 
    Think of it as writing pushups or squat thrusts or something. It’s not the endgame, but something you do to be better. It wasn’t a waste. It was inching up that learning curve. Do it enough and you’ll find it a little less steep.
  2. You are afraid you might not be able to get down that road again, build a novel from scratch and get it to the point where you actually like it. 
    You did it once, right? You’ve learned some stuff along the way. Hell, it might even go a little easier next time around. You’ll exercise writing muscles you forgot you had and you’ll get to re-experience the joy of everything coming together at last.
  3. You’re not sure you could go through writing another novel that may not see the light of day. Sure you love writing, but most of us do it with the intent of sharing the story, not to fill up a digital trunk.
    Hmmm, I see I’ve listed this twice. That’s probably because it’s the one that we (me) fear the most. Take note, see 1., above).
  4. You think maybe you’re not good enough. For Pete’s sake, have you been on Twitter? There must be a jillion authors out there. Who are getting new book deals. Who are landing agents. Seems like everyone but you.
    This might be true, but there’s only one way to be good enough and you already know what that is. Right? Right?? Look at your work with a critical eye. Be honest with yourself and find those places that can be better. If you can’t see it, find someone who can. Keep going, keep improving. Build a method of dealing with this feeling because this won’t be the last time you experience it.
  5. Giving up on your first novel feels a shit ton like failure. 
    Maybe it does, but if see 1., above again. Think of your first novel as a means to an end. Maybe this time around keep your progress and your aspirations on the down low. Keep your head down and get after novel number two, or a short story. Just finishing another work will ease your mind. Oh yeah, one more thing, if you can take the long view, there is no failure, only steps along the way. If other people are telling you that you’re a failure, move on from them, too.

No doubt there are stages of remorse for this sort of thing.

Ultimately, the decision is yours to make, but the question you must ask yourself most is, “How badly do I want this?”

If your answer is, “meh, too hard,” then roll over go back to sleep instead of getting up at Oh-Dark-Thirty to write. Watch Dynasty reruns instead of carving out an hour of cranking out a few hundred words. Hell, maybe Candy Crush Saga XIX is calling and you just can’t say no. That’s okay. The only thing that will die will be a little part of your soul.

It’s more about endurance and getting a little better with each page. It’s about understanding how your write and what drives you. Me, I’m going to keep on going and try my damnedest to tell a ripping good story and hope that somewhere down the line–my second, my fifth, my tenth novel–someone will say, “people will want to read the hell out this story.”


Jay Lake – Glorious, strange, and too large for the world

by Jonathan 0 Comments

Jay Lake, author, raconteur, human being

The title of this post is from Jay’s short story, The Stars Do Not Lie. I thought the words fitting.

I read yesterday on Twitter that Jay Lake died.

The weight with which the news hit surprised me. I didn’t know Jay, just brushed up against him here and there on his blog and Twitter. And that was enough. Unbeknownst to him, he played a large part in keeping me going when I first started writing.

Those daily updates of his writing progress, snippets of his works in progress, musings on the craft, and plenty of non-writing related stuff served as inspiration. He was someone who was willing to fearlessly hold his own line on hot-button issues, willing to call a spade a spade and willing to dive deeply into the human psyche — his own and in general.

Jay Lake's Debut Novel

From afar, he seemed like an admirable fellow with prodigious talent, a guidepost of sorts for this writer. He made me aspire to write more, to write better.

His posts on his journey over the last five years were raw and insightful and honest. He was willing to bring any and all along for the ride, baring his pain and joy. I’m going to miss seeing his stuff come through on my feed.

Jay lives on, to be sure, through everyone he has touched over the years and I can’t imagine he would have it any other way. Rage in Peace, Jay Lake.