Living in Your Head
What exactly is the artist’s work?
There’s a great image—silent, part of a montage—in the 1977 movie Julia. Jane Fonda plays the playwright Lillian Hellman. The shot is of Fonda, bundled up against the elements, walking alone along a wind-buffeted beach. The season seems like autumn, the setting is some writerly province like Swampscott or Martha’s Vineyard. Fonda as Lillian Hellman strides, deep in thought. We see her from a bit of a distance, from behind and to the side, so we can’t see her face or hear anything above the sound of the wind and the waves, but we see her hands move, expressively, as if she were in conversation with someone.
She’s talking to her characters. She is her characters.
Fonda/Hellman is not on the beach; she’s in a scene in her play. The dialogue and action are playing—or trying to play—in her head.
This is work.
This is the artist’s work.
Thank you so much for the short and sweet post. I have really enjoyed reading this short post and it truly deserves my comment and alot of applause.
Thanks for this post. My husband will constantly ask me, “Are you okay? Is something wrong?” When I get that far away look, I must continually tell him that I’m not on the verge of a seizure. I’m plotting and conversing with characters. Ha!
Fascinating. Thank you so much Steve. I’m reminded of JMStraczynski, creator of Babylon 5, talking about how even now, 25 years later, his characters from B5 are still very much present in his mind on a daily basis.
While in a sense this is kind of delusion, it’s far healthier than allowing all of the present day memes and toxic personalities to parasitize our minds. Of course this is partly what we obtain from novels: I’d rather have Pierre Bezukhov and Telamon of Arcadia as companions than the orange goblin and Nigel Farage 🙂
I guess for every discipline it is this way. when composing music, I also hear there’s a voice that wants to go one way and then from there a new window of opportunity orises. But yes, same unfolding as in a novel or play i’d say…
You’re a sonic storyteller, Edgar. We choose our Key to set the mood. Chord progressions to tell the story. Specific timbre, tone, color, and texture to each instrument when arranging. We use form, harmony, melody, production and space amongst many other things! I come here each Wednesday because a lot of what applies to being a good writer applies to communicating a message through music, too. Don’t you think? I’ve really been thinking about this lately…some of my chord choices have been as bland as using the adjective “nice”. What a nice car for a nice woman in a nice neighborhood!! How can I spice it up?!
Though if you’re going for bland, “nice” might be perfect. Your reverie inspired a Stepford Wives scene in my head, after all. Which reminds me of writing advice from Dilbert creator Scott Adams. Something like, “Never say ‘drink’ when you can say ‘swill.'” When I shared that with Katie she said, “Never say ‘swill’ unless you’re going for pretentious.” To each his own, I suppose.
It’s fun to check in with everyone on Wednesdays, isn’t it? A group of people who are becoming friends because they seem to have one thing in common, the desire to become more of themselves. It makes me wonder how we found each other. I don’t think I’d ever heard of Steve until Colleen Wainwright (https://www.communicatrix.com/) talked him up. Any others care to share how they found their way here? I am curious!
Haha, Katie! She’s right though 🙂
I came here because The War of Art meant so much to me. I just happened to come across the blog. You, Joe, Peter, and Brian were so welcoming. I began to enjoy reading what everyone had to say each week!
By the way, I did the quiz from this week’s Doing What Works! I surprisingly got ‘REBEL’?! It makes sense now though. The Venn Diagram has it connected with Obligers on others expectations, but I rebel against my own. I’ve sensed I am my own worst enemy, however, knowledge is power. Much like therapy, now that I am aware of my tendencies, I can work to fix issues. Inspiring stuff! Thank you!
Amazing folks walk through the halls of this realm. I go back to “It’s the tribes, stupid!” Then War of Art and then Last of the Amazons and then the rest of the books. I quote SP all the time and these folks are amazing and many don’t reveal it or even think it. Artists are a gang, a gaggle, a posse, a mafia. If they help you fight English Ivy, count yourself lucky! And I know I’m not the only one that thinks so and doesn’t take the time to post most weeks.
David Kauffman. Ursula. (insert those not named) And that was before the world went upside down.
Thanks Steve! (and thanks posse) And thanks Diana!
You’re welcome, Kate!
I’m a questioner. And for those of you who wonder what quiz Kate’s talking about, it’s from Gretchen Rubin and it shows you how you respond to expectations…
I agree, Regina! I think of this comments section as a weekly check-in on the big question of whether we’re doing with our lives what we came here to do. Steve gives us the prompt, we chew on that, and off we go.
I found Steve through an interview with Marie Foleo, on Marie Foleo TV. Then I read his books The Art of War, and Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t. I’ve been a fan ever since.
I majored in music as an oboist and taught privately for 25 years. Composed a few pieces. But for 11 years I have been a quilt artist. I too find inspiration here weekly. I’ve been creating a special quilt for my uncle who has lung cancer. He is only 4 years older than I am. I asked his daughter for ideas of what he would like and I took it from there. My muse, fabrics, colors and ideas formed a landscape in my mind — the sky with blues, oranges and purples from the setting sun. A cloud with a Cessna would be perfect — he loved to fly Cessnas! Meeting the Georgia sky with a tree line on the horizon are 3 fields of patchwork farm crops flanking an old red barn. Parked near the barn is his restored 1968 red Ford pick-up truck which he will leave to his only grandson. I planned to grab awesome photos of a plane and truck from the internet. And then magically, my cousin sent me a photo taken of him actually flying, on approach for his very first landing. I printed it on fabric and appliquéd it on the only cloud in the sky. She sent a profile shot of the actual truck with all 4 grandchildren sitting in or on the truck and it will be appliquéd near the barn. When I finish creating the scene I’ll create a border — its role being similar to a book’s cover. Then the quilting and binding of the edges will happen and off the quilt will go on it’s way to southern Georgia — a labor of love with prayers, hugs and wonderful memories stitched into every square inch. It will warm my amazing uncle during chemo treatments and will accompany him in the sunset of his life. I love reading Stephen’s explanations and descriptions of what happens as we create art in our “studios”. His work inspires mine — and our work, in turn, blesses others.
Wow, Jackie. Talk about love made visible!
I bet I’m not the only one who’d love to see a photo of this when it’s finished — if it isn’t too personal, that is, and you could link to it somehow.
Maureen — Thank you — I will see if I can figure out a way to link a photo here.
I second Maureen! Jackie, your post made me smile. Particularly this:
“My muse, fabrics, colors and ideas formed a landscape in my mind — the sky with blues, oranges and purples from the setting sun.” How lovely for your uncle! May he feel the timeless love when everything else feels so…fleeting.
Kate! Yes! You have caught the spirit of the quilt and are now another little part of it’s story! My cousin said yesterday that she will video him opening the box — I know there will be tears, which are all born of so much love of family and life. I loved your words — thank you.
But what about mindfulness, being in the moment? The beach, the water, the sky? What’s the pint of learning that if we’re in our head while walking on the beach? Isn’t our work to learn how to be on the beach while walking on the beach and writing while writing?
Maybe it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Maybe we can embrace what’s right in front of us — the beach OR the keyboard — without deciding, as Brad suggests, where we’ll get our best ideas.
In my opinion, you are gonna need two walks. My mind gets stuck without my legs moving.
Dear Alex, my personal opinion would be that sitting on the writer’s chair is the necessity, and “going to the beach” is a great and invaluable commodity. We can “live the beach” if we want, but only after we finished the necessity’s long hours of the day, or else our work of art is in danger.
Easy to write this to you, hard to do it!
Oh, what a powder keg of power, an explosion of possibility in your post, Steven. Being a person who unashamedly and quite sanely talks out loud to God a lot, talking to my characters should be easy. But it’s not. Mercifully, I did not and I am not creating God, the one who created me. But my characters? They are 100% my creations. That’s a big responsibility, overwhelming and therefore scary. Just know this post is an explosion of possibility in at least one person today!
Characters: Don’t get precious with them, just talk to them. Stuff happens and you aren’t responsible. It only goes on a page if you WANT it to.
Work and Play, yes!
Great post, as always. And interesting point, Alex.
I imagine many writers/readers of this blog have occasionally worked through the worst of their plot woes at the most unexpected times, and in every place imaginable. The muse has visited me on planes, in hotel lobbies, and during walks in the woods. If the muse beckons, we gratefully pay her our respects…
Great illustration of the principle that Movies are Pictures. This scene can convey a profound point without any words. The power of mimesis!
Such a true scene for any writer. Especially a playwright. My problem is when my characters wake me up in the middle of the night and want to discuss their motivation, etc. Just do what I write!
A very tense photo for me. No peace, no comfort until what needs to be done is done. She has no choice. She was chosen. She seems to be hypnotized. Nothing else matter. She’s facing her dragons. I love these battles. But I still struggle in making this kind of blessed moment happen. I know…
Good morning from the other side of the earth and thank you all very much for your thoughts -dear Steve, this is the chair, this is the core of our creations. Trying to remember simultaneously to “listen” to the world’s beat, the ugly and the beautiful and all other aspects of it, like Hemingway suggests.
Strangely enough, I think there is a truth to that saying about plateaus and stepping/jumping up: one can seat at the chair and yet not make progress for a day. Or a month, or a week, or maybe for some years. It is a strange thing to sit down doing the work but the work not getting done, not going ahead. It can be seen as a strong tool of Resistance: keeping your head down on your plateau until you give up or miss interest.
And that test, like many others, will define the completion or not of the creation.
Sitting down and not writing ahead.
*lose interest, not miss interest 😀
I’m always stomping around having arguments with myself out loud.
I only write books so I can pretend I’m not really crazy.
My head is spinning around with ideas and thoughts…. is that a sickness or a sign to tell me should go writing?
Sorry my bad eng.
This is a sign to keep writing!! 🙂
“Living in your head” – a beautiful way to describe the condition of the writer’s life. Looking forward to share this one with our writing team tomorrow!
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It’s the ashtray in that photo, Steve, that makes the point. It takes time. No one “outside” gets it. That to craft something of value–for me or the world–it takes a measure of time that time, itself, metes out. When I tell friends that I’m still writing my project up, this barely slight whiff of exasperation swishes across their face. I know then that they’ve been googled too. Time invites that inner conversation that, quick or not, will make its way out in voice that, quick or not, is captured by ink for the world to consider!
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It May is possible I think there is real truth to that saying about living in your head and stepping/jumping up: one can seat at the chair and make progress for the living head. Or a month.
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Thank you, Steven.
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