Friday, April 10, 2009


I was going to comment on Doug's post, but my comment kept getting longer and longer. So I am posting here.

I think Doug is almost certainly right about his categories of faith. But I don't think I entirely share his experience.

I treasure the faith that other people have in my work; it's hugely important. I can be made happy for weeks by praise. (I got terrific praise recently from someone who is going -- I think -- to buy my "Mammoth" story for a small press project. It's someone I respect a lot. I am still floating.)

I believe in my stories while I'm writing them, except when I get frustrated and think, "This is crap." I have on several occasions thrown stories out when they were partly done and then rewritten them from memory. One was "The Garden," which ended in a Gardner Dozois Best of the Year collection.

In general, in spite of doubt, this is the strongest faith for me. There are stories that must be told; there are explorations of art which must take place.

I'm not sure how much I believe in myself as a writer. I think at some deep level I do. But closer to the surface I think of myself as someone doing a necessary job with inadequate tools.

I think this is the influence of the 19th/early 20th century legend of the avant garde artist starving in a garret for his art. He is doing something difficult and important that other people don't understand, driven by his inner vision and a fierce integrity, troubled by external criticism and internal self-doubt. Van Gogh is the perfect example.

I grew up with this story, since my father was an art historian who studied 19th and 20th art and who knew a lot of avant garde artists, who actually did live lives kind of like the van Gogh legend, though they suffered less and managed to have wives, who helped their careers a lot.

This is a very different story from the legend of the science fiction writer, the competent, can-do professional, who gets the work done on time and to specification.

Anyway, I think my idea of how to be an artist was shaped by the van Gogh legend and the example of artists like the 20th century painter Philip Guston. You always question. You always doubt. You always push limits. If people don't understand or like what you are doing, that's too bad, but you have to keep following your own vision. And you have plenty of days when self-doubt overwhelms your faith in yourself. But you keep trucking.

I'm not sure I recommend this idea of the artist. I suspect it makes too big a deal of writing, and it may encourage unnecessary self-doubt and suffering.

The sf can-do professional has a lot to be said for it. There are limitations to this idea, but no need to discuss them now.


Kelly McCullough said...

Nice, Eleanor, though I'm definitely shaped much more by the legend of the competent can-do f&sf professional.

tate hallaway said...

Yeah, and I think it's no suprise that I am too.

Or I'd still be Lyda Morehouse and suffering a great deal for my art.