All creative arts require exercise. This is never more clear to me than when I have not been writing regularly, as in the last year. It is not so much that my writing is always bad. Rather, it is inconsistent. Wildly, annoyingly inconsistent. I can sit down and write one post that satisfies me, and then turn around and write another that leaves me deeply frustrated.
Case in point: yesterday I reviewed Walter Wangerin Jr.’s The Book of the Dun Cow. (I would love it if you read my review. The book, however, is not optional. Put it at the top of your list.) The review is hardly phenomenal writing, but it is decent. WhenI set out to write a post relating my experience running to walking with God this afternoon, the results were less satisfying, to say the least. Truth be told, I think I need to just set the post aside until I can rewrite it from scratch. It’s that bad.
Now, the post is not riddled with grammatical errors, or even badly organized. Worse: it is boring. The cardinal crime of creativity, worse even than publishing something ugly is to publish something boring. Ugliness at least has the redeeming feature of evoking some emotion, even if only revulsion. Boring art, by contrast, fails to deliver on the basic promise of the creative act: that it will communicate from one soul to another. No one should ever publish boring work by choice, not even in a textbook.
Blog posts are admittedly not the standard of high art, or any art at all. Most of the web is populated by what may generously be described as droll. That is no excuse, though: anyone who professes to care about art and artistry – much less the sort person who would name a blog “the art of artistry,” translated into Latin – should ever think, “Ah, well, good enough to fit in with the rest of the dreck that passes for content on the web” and let rip another pathetic excuse for good writing.
So I won’t. I will leave the post in draft form until I can take the good ideas in it and turn them into the sort of thing I would want to read, instead of the embarrassing mess currently in the dock.
This is how good art happens: by repetition, hard work, and throwing away the garbage you create until you stop creating garbage.
It is true that the creative act is mysterious, of course. We wonder where the words, the music, the images come from, and find no answer true enough to fully plumbs those depths. We wonder to hear from our own souls the faint echo of the word that spoke our being into being.
In another sense, however, creative work is just like every other kind of work. It is, obvious to say, work. Success requires diligent effort. No one ever becomes a truly excellent musician, sculptor, painter, or writer by sitting around pondering the mystery of creativity, any more than one becomes a skilled engineer by thinking about the beauty of equations. (This might be the time to make a joke about philosophers or mathematicians, but I will leave low-hanging fruit for another day.) Every art requires skill, and skill requires practice.
In that sense, then, the poorly written post I churned out earlier was not a failure, per se. To be sure, I did not achieve the goal I set for myself: to communicate theological truth in a meaningful, winsome, and elegant way. I did, however, write, and that is something meaningful and important in its own way. Just as the musician counts it a success to have practiced, even if the practice went badly, I will count today a success because I wrote, even if I wrote badly. I will write again tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that. Consistency, I trust, will have its reward.