The Writing Life: Choices in Art

In my recent blog on Bram Stoker’s Dracula I threw in a line that while viewing that film multiple times I chose not to see its flaws. I could, if I wanted, pick away at what some might perceive as problems in the movie, but I chose not to, because I’d much rather enjoy those aspects that enthralled and entranced me. I wanted to embrace the spell the creators had tried to cast over me, not break it.

It strikes me that a lot of the time, when reading, watching, regarding, touching, or tasting things we really want to engage in, we choose our experience in many ways. How many times have we decided not to like something based on a first fleeting bad impression, and found it hard to overcome that randomly inculcated opposition to the item/object of experience? Just me? Oh well, moving on…

But just as prejudices can be hard to overcome when interacting with art, be it written, produced, or performed, so can adoration be hard to puncture. I find that fascinating – this is why superfans can find it difficult, I think, to recognize when output by their idols falls below previously held high standards. It takes a lot to break the willing engagement in a spell. I am a Dio superfan – so it is with regret I am forced to admit that Angry Machines is a terrible album, with maybe one and a half songs that are redeemable. I can see where they were trying to go, but I don’t think the band successfully got there. It wasn’t that last word though, and the band and singer came back stronger for a late career renaissance. But of course I would say that, wouldn’t I?

None of the three movies I recently talked about are perfect. I choose to look past their weaknesses and focus on their strengths, the things that make them resonate in me, draw out emotions and imagination, make me intellectually engage, all at the same time. If a piece of art or entertainment can do all those things I am generally won over, because I can enjoy it in the moment, or be inspired or intrigued later as I choose to chew the fat and play at finding patterns of significance where there may be none, for no other reason than the delight of it.

And what then of the artist’s choices? Knowing that your audience can and will make decisions about your work, that some will see more flaws than flair while others will see more beauty than catastrophe, what effect can that have on the artist as they create, or on me as a writer?

Right now I’m editing a book I know has moments when people reading it might well reach a fork in the road and go no further. I know that choice exists for them, and I am making the choice to leave those forks in the road there. I could still remove them. But I’m not going to. I’m making that choice because I believe it creates the story I most want to tell: anything else would be dilution. I’m hoping enough readers are engaged enough to keep following the road wherever it goes, and to reward them at its end. Setting yourself targets like that is highly intimidating, because as a writer you have to work hard for that engagement in a reader, and to risk throwing that away goes against every instinct. But I am exhilarated by the choices I have made, because I believe in them. I’m still working on executing as well as I can though!

And what is editing but an endless sequence of choices seeking to drown you in indecision? I’m finding that the only way to proceed is with a mental machete, and plenty of pristine back up files!

As writers we make a multitude of choices, as readers I think we make just as many, if not more, when deciding whether or not to like, love, or keep reading a book. Those choices are fascinating to me, and the tension between what a writer chooses to include and what a reader decides to focus on is something that I believe is not easily manipulated – better to create what you can and not try too hard to control outcomes in the minds of unknown others. Where those two sets of choices interact – the writer’s and the reader’s – is a place that through the magic of words on the page two minds can interact, if not ever quite meet, though the illusion at times can be very powerful. That space is one of marvels, and I try not to treat it with a heavy hand. I leave it to others to judge my success in that regard.

To finish: a beautiful song about choices that resonates with me, draws out my emotion and imagination, and makes me think all at once. The video is also full of intriguing choices, reflecting the song in intriguing ways. See what you think.

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