WHY DID YOU TAKE THAT PICTURE? – Marilyn Armstrong

“Why did you take that picture?” I was startled. No one ever asked me before. Photographers usually know the answer and non-photographers don’t think to ask. It gave me pause to think about the arts and what they mean to us.

I remember when I was teaching tech writing to graduate students and someone asked me “How do you know what to write?”

I was flummoxed. How did I know what to write?

I just knew. I never thought about it. I sometimes had to struggle for finding the right organization for a document, but I never failed to know what had to be there.

This flower really is pink!

So I went home and asked Garry “How do you know what film to shoot or what script to write?” He looked at me like I had two heads, so I explained what had happened in class and how I realized I knew what to write because … I just knew. Apparently, it was the same for him. You see the story and you know what you need to do with it.

I realized if you needed to ask, you were probably in the wrong place.

To me, it’s obvious why a picture was taken: the photographer saw something: light, shadow, image, color. Something spoke to the photographer and said: “Shoot me.”

I don’t need a reason to take a picture, though I may have one. I don’t take pictures of churches for religious reasons. I like the architecture or how the light plays on the steeple or reflects in the windows.

A Junco and the Cardinal

If I think it will make an interesting composition, I’ll take pictures of my feet. I have taken pictures of my feet, with and without shoes.

 

You can’t explain art. You get it or not. It speaks to you or not. No amount of studying will make art comprehensible if you don’t have a fundamental sympathy for it.

I know I’m going against the current mantra that “If you try hard enough, you can learn anything.”

Maybe this is true for some stuff, but I don’t see how it can apply to the arts. Or sports. You need to be taught, but you also need some ability. I spent years trying to learn to ice skate and I got to the point where I didn’t look too bad … but I was never really good at any of it, not even the simplest things. I had years of training and it was a complete waste of time, effort, and money.

 

If you have no eye, no course will give you one. It would be like trying to cure color blindness. If you are tone-deaf, you won’t be a musician. No matter how many lessons you take or how many hours you practice. If you have no gift for putting words together, you will not be a writer.

Not everyone is equally talented, even within the arts … but anyone earning a living in the arts has some talent. Some natural gift.

It’s cruel to tell kids they can be whatever they want merely by working harder. It’s not true. We should try to find out what our kids are good at and encourage them to go in directions in which they have some chance of success. Not everyone has a talent for art … but everyone has a talent for something.

The challenge is determining what it is.

INSPIRED: WHY I WRITE WHILE YOU PREFER GOLF – Marilyn Armstrong

Wednesday RDP – INSPIRE

A friend asked me why I do this, why I blog. So I asked her why she plays golf.

This is an evergreen post for me. I’ve modified a bit with each iteration, but it says something that’s fundamentally true about the creative process and certainly about my creative process. Writing is me. It’s the sport I play, the goal I seek. Sometimes, I need to remind myself of things I already know, so here it is, again.


We do what we do because we love it, need to do it, or both. For me, writing is like breathing. If I don’t write, I strangle on words never used. My friend needs to compete, to be active. To play golf or she will suffocate.

I can’t begin to count the number of people who have told me they want to be writers, but don’t know how. They want me to tell them how. That they asked the question makes me fairly sure they are not writers.

If you are a writer, you write. You will write and will keep writing because it is not what you do, it is what you are. It is as much a part of you as your nose or stomach.

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I started writing as soon as I learned to read, which was about 45 minutes after someone handed me a reading primer. It was as if a switch had been thrown in my brain. Words felt like home.

Writing was (is) exactly the same as speaking, but takes longer. I have never minded spending the extra time. I love crafting sentences until they are just right. I love that I can go back and fix written words, that unlike words you say, you can take them back.

Raison d’être? I write because I’m a writer. Writing is how I express myself, how I interact with the world. It’s my window, my doorway, my handshake, my dreams.

If you are going to be a writer, you probably already know it. Practice will make you a better writer, can help you understand the techniques you need to build a plot and create books that publishers will buy. Writing itself is a gift.

If you have it, you know it — and most of us know it quite young.

computer gargoyle

Writers have words. They collect in your mind, waiting to be written. We have heads full of words, sentences, pronouns, adjectives, and dependent clauses.

My advice to everyone who aspires to be a writer is to write. Don’t talk about it. Do it. Whatever medium works for you. Blogging, novels, short stories, poetry. Whatever. I’d also advise you to not talk about your work until you’ve done a significant amount of writing. I can’t count the number of great ideas left on barroom floors, talked away until there was nothing left but a vague memory and a lot of empty wine glasses. Save your words to a better purpose.

Write a lot even if it’s mostly not very good. Sooner or later, you’ll find your thing. Or not.

But at least you will know you did your best, even if your best wasn’t quite up to snuff. If you don’t write, it might be a personal loss for you, but possibly, it’s the world’s loss.

You will never know how good you can be if you don’t at least give it a try.

WHY I WRITE WHILE YOU PLAY GOLF

A friend asked me why I do this, why I blog. So I asked her why she plays golf.

This is an evergreen post for me. I’ve modified a bit with each iteration, but it says something that’s fundamentally true about the creative process and certainly about my personal creative process. Writing (and also photography) are my version of sports. They really have always been, throughout my  life. With a little bit of luck, they always will be. So here it is again because sometimes, I need to remind myself of things I already know.

I feel I should point out that writing isn’t only an art. “Real writing” can also be a craft, or “non-fiction.” Books about science or technology are no less “real writing” than a novel. I know we who toil as wordsmiths who tell others how things work or how to accomplish tasks, rarely win prizes or make a best-seller list. Nonetheless, we do not need to hang our heads because we aren’t don’t create characters and plots. I doubt most fiction writers would be good at technical or science writing. Or, for that matter, news writing. It’s not something less, just something different.

If one kind of writing doesn’t work for you, try something else. If you are good with words, somewhere, there’s a place for you in the big world of writing and writers.

One last point. “Professional” means you get paid to do it. If you’d like to get paid, but haven’t yet, you aren’t a professional. It doesn’t mean you aren’t good, just that you don’t (yet) earn a living at it. It’s not a judgement; it’s a distinction.


We do what we do because we love it, need to do it, or both. For me, writing is like breathing. If I don’t write, I strangle on words never used. My friend needs to compete, to be active. To play golf or she will suffocate.

I can’t begin to count the number of people who have told me they want to be writers, but don’t know how. They want me to tell them how. That they asked the question makes me reasonably sure they aren’t writers.

If you are a writer, you write. You will write and will keep writing because it is not what you do, it is what you are. It is as much a part of you as your nose or stomach.

75-FadedBooksFloatingWordsNK-004

I started writing as soon as I learned to read, which was about 45 minutes after someone handed me a reading primer. It was as if a switch had been thrown in my brain. Words felt like home.

Writing was (is) exactly the same as speaking, but takes longer. I have never minded spending the extra time. I love crafting sentences until they are just right. I love that I can go back and fix written words, that unlike words you say, you can take them back.

Raison d’être? I write because I’m a writer. Writing is how I express myself, how I interact with the world. It’s my window, my doorway, my handshake, my dreams.

If you are going to be a writer, you probably already know it. Practice will make you a better writer, can help you understand the techniques you need to build a plot and create books that publishers will buy — but writing itself is a gift. If you have it, you know it — and most of us know it pretty young.

computer gargoyle

Writers have words. They collect in your mind, waiting to be written. We have heads full of words, sentences, pronouns, adjectives, and dependent clauses.

My advice to everyone who aspires to be a writer is to write. Don’t talk about it. Do it. Whatever medium works for you. Blogging, novels, short stories, poetry. Whatever. I’d also advise you to not talk about your work until you’ve done a significant amount of writing. I can’t count the number of great ideas left on barroom floors, talked away until there was nothing left but a vague memory and a lot of empty wine glasses. Save your words to a better purpose.

Write a lot even if it’s mostly not very good. Sooner or later, you’ll find your thing. If you don’t write, it is your personal loss, but maybe it’s the world’s loss, too.

You will never know how good you can be if you don’t try.

Source: WHY I WRITE WHILE YOU PLAY GOLF

SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION

A friend asked me why I do this, why I blog. So I asked her why she plays golf.

We do what we do because we love it, need it. Or both. Because, despite the fact the many bloggers pretend they “write for themselves,” it’s untrue. We blog because we want other people to read our words, to connect with our ideas. If we wanted to write “for ourselves,” we’d keep a diary.Garry - Writer Christmas Day

Why are bloggers so coy about wanting an audience? Is it because they aren’t getting a good response, so instead of trying to figure how to bring in more readers and followers, they say they don’t care whether or not anyone reads them?

And then when one of us is moderately successful and popular, they get all squinchy-eyed and moralistic, as if  we’ve ruined the purity of the blogging experience.

Really? Seriously? When did we achieve that lofty spiritual level where we are above worldly concerns … like popularity and success? The hypocrisy of it takes my breath away. If that is how you really feel, you shouldn’t be blogging.

We all care. Anyone who says otherwise is lying — probably to themselves and definitely to us. We all want to be read, to be seen, to have an audience. If we take pictures, we want people to look at our images and say “Wow, that’s amazing.” Because we want to be amazing.

Writing is like breathing. If I don’t write, I suffocate. My friend?  She needs to compete. To play golf. Or she will suffocate.

TELL ME HOW TO WRITE

I can’t begin to count the number of people who tell me they want to be writers, but don’t know how to start.

That they ask the question suggests they will never be writers. Writers write. No one has to tell you how or when. You write and will keep doing it because it’s not what you do, it’s what you are. You may not write brilliantly, but you will write. You’ll get it right eventually. Doing is learning.

I started writing as soon as I could read. Putting words on paper was the same as speaking, but took longer. I didn’t mind the extra time because I could go back and fix written words. Being able to change the words and keep changing them until they said precisely what I wanted them to say was the prize.

I was socially awkward and my youthful verbal skills not well-suited to my age and stage in life. I wasn’t good at sports. No one wanted me on the team. In retrospect, I can understand it, but when I was a kid, it hurt.

Games and other social activities let you become popular, make friends, and do those other things which matter to kids. I couldn’t do that stuff, but I could write. And read. I might be a klutz, but words let me build worlds.

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If you are going to be a writer, you know it. Practice will make you better, help you understand how to build plots,  produce books publishers will buy. But writing itself is a gift. If you have it, you know it.

Writers have words waiting to be written, lining up for the opportunity to be set on paper or in the computer. It may take a while for you to find what you want to write about. But you will write.

Talent comes in an endless number of flavors. If you are a musician, you’ll find a way to make music. The same with painting, photography, drawing, running, hitting a baseball or throwing one so that it just skims that outer corner of the plate at 96 miles per hour. Mathematics, engineering, architecture … creativity and talent are as varied as the people who use it.

Ghost Photographer

ADVICE FOR THE BEWILDERED 

My advice to hopeful writers is simple. Write.

Don’t talk about it. Do it. Write a lot, as often as you can, even if most of it is crap and you won’t show it to anyone. Sooner or later, you’ll find your way. If you don’t write, it’s your loss, but it may also be the world’s loss. You never know how good you can be if you don’t try.

This blog is my outlet for the millions of words stuffed in my head. Yes, I really want you to read it. It matters to me and I see no reason to pretend it doesn’t.

On the other hand, I hate golf. Can’t figure out why anyone would want to walk around an enormous lawn hitting a little white ball. I can’t think of anything more boring, but I know a lot of golfers. They live for it. The rest of the week is just a pause between tee times.

So, if you don’t get why I write, that’s okay. You don’t have to get it. That I get it and can do it and other people read it … that’s fine.

You do your thing, I’ll do mine. And we will all find happiness doing stuff we love.

IF YOU WANT IT BAD ENOUGH

The biggest and most damaging lie we tell our kids is this:

“If you want it bad enough and work really hard, you can achieve anything.”

We all bought into it as kids. Even though life has taught us it’s not true, we still try to sell it to younger generations. It’s the worst kind of lie. True enough to sound inspiring, yet deeply misleading.

You can try until your heart breaks, but to succeed you need more than a dream and determination. You need the right skill set, the right instincts, and actual talent. Luck helps too.

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We cannot always achieve what we want because we want it a lot. You can’t be a blind artist. You can’t be a tone-deaf musician. You can’t write without a gift for words. Some things can’t be taught. Yet these days, anyone who objects to the lie that hard work alone is always enough is called defeatist — or elitist. I am neither, but I am a realist.

I don’t know when realism became politically incorrect. It’s cruel. It takes people with potential and makes them feel like failures, not because they can’t succeed, but because they are doing the wrong thing.

When someone tells me I shouldn’t give up whatever because if I keep trying, I will surely succeed, it annoys me. I’m a very hard worker, but I’m old enough to know that hard work only takes you so far. I would rather work on something at which I have a chance of succeeding.

Yet we keep hearing the same enticing lie. “Don’t give up your dream! You can make it happen!” We always read about the successes. What we don’t hear about are the myriad failures, those who tried their hearts out and were defeated. We waste years trying to achieve the impossible while dismissing the achievable. We ignore real gifts in favor of magical thinking.

Creating a good and satisfying career should be part of everyone’s life plans. First though, we need to figure out what we do well, then focus on it. Hone talent and build a future that works. We need to help our kids do the same. Then network like mad and hope to get the Big Break because the wild card in the mix is always Lady Luck.

Don’t buy a lie and don’t foist it off on your kids. Help them be the best they can be. Help them succeed.

WHY DID YOU TAKE THAT PICTURE?

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“Why did you take that picture?” I was startled. No one ever asked me before. Photographers instinctively know the answer; non-photographers don’t normally think to ask. It gave me pause.

To me, it’s obvious why any picture was taken: the photographer saw something. Light, shadow, image, color. Abstract or representational, something about the image appealed to the photographer’s inner eye.

75-PunkinsZS19-MAR-17

I don’t need a reason to take a picture, though I may have one. I don’t take pictures of churches for religious reasons. I like the architecture or how the light plays on the steeple or reflects in the windows. If I think it will make an interesting composition, I’ll take pictures of my feet. I have taken pictures of my feet, with and without shoes.

new shoes

I think if anyone asks such a question, one of two things is true. The photographer has failed to convey his or her vision. Or the viewer doesn’t understand art or artists. Either way, it’s a failure to communicate. You can’t explain art. You get it or not. It speaks to you or not. No amount of studying will make art comprehensible if you don’t have a fundamental sympathy for it.

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I know I’m going against the current mantra that “If you try hard enough, you can learn anything.” I don’t believe it applies to the arts or other things, such as sports. Or mathematics.

If you have no eye, no course will give you one. It would be like trying to cure color blindness. If you are tone-deaf, you won’t be a musician. No matter how many lessons you take or how many hours you practice. If you have no gift for putting words together, you will not be a writer. Not everyone is equally talented, even within the arts … but anyone earning a living in the arts has some talent. Some natural gift.

It’s cruel to tell kids they can be whatever they want merely by working harder. Because it’s not true. We should try to find out what our kids are good at and encourage them to go in directions in which they have some reasonable chance of success. Not everyone has talent for art … but everyone has a talent for something. The challenge is determining what it is.

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Buying the Big Lie

I posted about this subject a while back, but yesterday, when we were out visiting friends, the conversation over dinner turned to chasing dreams versus using your abilities. Both Garry and Jim have spent their lives working in media, though from different sides of the camera.

We all agreed was that advisers, parents, and others who influence young people to choose a career path usually have an agenda. Mom and dad want to see their kid be a “professional.” Pastor thinks Joey would be a great minister while the lad’s guidance counselor is telling Joey that he should try for that sports scholarship. The voice of the youngster is lost in a cacophony of bad advice.

I watched my brother, who wanted to be an engineer, who had always wanted to be an engineer, be bullied into pre-med by my parents who didn’t think engineering was a real career (no, I do not know why). Matt didn’t want to be a doctor and lacking whatever that something is that lets some kids swim against the tide, he went along until flunked out of school.Self-destructive rebellion: if he could not do what he wanted to do, he wouldn’t do what they wanted. He would have been a great engineer.

I was a more strong-willed than the average kid. My mother felt very strongly that I should become a teacher, because teachers, in her experience, always had work … even during the depression. Once I got past my side drift into music, I said “I’m going to be a writer.”

Dire predictions of a lifetime of poverty living in unheated garrets notwithstanding, I never strayed from that path and guess what? When many of the kids with whom I’d grown up  and who had taken “safe courses” were out of work, I always had work. My future was limited only by my unwillingness to trade a bigger career for a personal life.

The lie has is so ingrained in our culture that we accept it without question:

“If you want it bad enough and try hard enough, you can achieve anything.”

That is not true. You can try until your heart breaks, but to succeed you need more than a dream and determination. You need the right skill set, the right instincts, and usually, some actual talent. A bit of luck doesn’t hurt either.

We cannot achieve anything because we want it. Working hard can take you only so far. The rest of the distance requires ability in your chosen field: the talent to make the dream come true.

You can’t be a blind artist. You can’t be a tone-deaf musician. You can’t write when you’ve no gift for words. You can’t be physicist if you find mathematics incomprehensible. You can’t be a carpenter or an engineer if you cannot visualize in three dimensions. You can’t take pictures if you don’t see them in your mind’s eye. There are things you cannot be taught.

For several years, I taught technical writing to adults who were trying to change career paths, often from computer programming, developing, research, or accounting to technical writing. They figured that what they had done before was so much harder than merely writing, it would be a snap. Many of my students were far better educated than I was. Some had advanced degrees in mathematics or a hard science.

My first assignment was a test to give me an idea if any of my students had a hope in hell of succeeding in the field. I asked them to give me a no-more-than 4-page set of directions, including illustrations, explaining how to use a ballpoint pen, written for someone who’d never seen one. They were to assume the person could use a pen and could write, but had never used this implement. Sounds simple, right?

I got 20 page essays on the history of writing and writing implements, ink and quills. Before the first real assignment, I already knew who had any chance at all and who was wasting his/her money. That first class had 31 students; probably 2 of whom went into the business and stayed.

The question that always made my heart sink was “How do you know what to write?”

If you have to ask, you are already in trouble. Writing “how-to” material only looks easy. It isn’t. You have to be able to look at a piece of hardware or software and see it as a process, be able to visualize all the steps that someone with no prior knowledge of this “thing” will need to know to make it work. It’s a way of seeing things, a fundamental of the job along with the ability to use words. It is as basic to a technical writer as seeing a picture in your mind is to a photographer.

These days, anyone who objects to the myth that effort can substitute for talent is labeled a defeatist or an elitist. I am neither. I am a realist.

I don’t know when realism morphed into defeatism and/or elitism. It infuriates me. It’s cruel. It takes people with all kinds of potential and makes them feel like failures, not because they can’t succeed, but because they are doing the wrong stuff. When someone tells me I shouldn’t give up on a dream because if I keep trying, I will surely succeed, I get angry.

It is neither courageous nor wise to spend a lifetime tilting at personal windmills. It’s a foolish waste of time.

I’m in favor of dreams as long as you recognize the difference between a dream and a realistic expectation.

I’m very much in favor of having a thorough understanding of who you are, what gifts and talents you have, knowing what you want to do, then doing it with your whole heart. Other people’s expectations and childhood day dreams are baggage that will weigh you down.

If you combine your own abilities, passion, and determination: that’s a winning ticket. But you need the whole package. One or two out of three won’t get it done.

We all have dreams and gifts. Sometimes the two come together and you can ride your dreams into a fantastic future, but this is not in everyone’s cards.

Sometimes,you are better not taking that other path. Going the wrong way won’t get you where you need to be.

I used more than half my college years trying to be a musician. I was pretty good. The problem is that “pretty good” is not good enough. My real talent lay in words. I could write as soon as I could read. It was as natural to me as breathing. I never even thought much about it because it was so easy. I figured anyone could do it.

I had to revise my thinking and self-image. I also had to rethink the definition of writer and separate it from “author” in my mind.

It was difficult. I kept music as a hobby, refocused my energy on writing and life turned around. I stopped plodding and leapt forward. I started working as a professional writer with my first job after college and never did anything else professionally for the next 40 years.

I never took a writing course. Not creative writing, anyway. I don’t think creative writing courses help anyone become creative or a writer … at least not the ones they teach in college. I did start one, lasted two sessions, dropped it. It was clear the professor was not a writer.

I learned my profession on the job. It turns out that The Great American novel was not in my personal future, but there are many other career paths requiring writing skills, from academia, to news and journalism, to Madison Avenue.

No one can create talent. That’s why talents are called gifts. You get them free of charge along with the breath of life. Gifts come from God, not hard work.

Yet we keep hearing that same enchanting deadly lie. Don’t give up your dream! You can make it happen!

Thus we waste years to achieve the impossible often dismissing the achievable. We neglect our real gifts in favor of magical thinking. If I were God, I would find that really annoying.

Dreams are not the goal.

Creating a good and satisfying life should be everyone’s goal. We all need to take stock of ourselves, look at what we do well, focus on our strengths, hone our talents, and build a future that works.

The freedom you gain when you stop trying to do what you can’t and put your heart into using your natural gifts is inestimable. You stop feeling like a failure. You find that you love your work. You dump the dead weight of childhood dreams and other people’s expectations.

Distinguishing dreams from reality is a winning strategy.

Like it or not, dreams are not real. Don’t buy the lie and don’t foist it off on your kids. Help them be themselves, the best selves they can be. They weren’t put here to fulfill your dreams.