Show Your Work – Or Don’t

I mentioned in my last post that I was taking Sarah Selecky’s Story is a State of Mind online writing course.  In the very first lesson she asks her students to find a way of working the course into their schedules, essentially to be accountable to themselves to complete each assignment, in order to derive the full benefit of the course.  Among the examples she gives of ways to register this commitment is to start a blog and post the completed assignments to it.  Makes sense, I thought.

At roughly the same time I began reading Austin Kleon’s newest book, called Show Your Work.  In it he extols the benefits of sharing your work as a way of joining a community of like-minded creative people and even possibly getting “discovered.”  One of his chapter headings is “Think Process, Not Product.”  He urges artists to take people behind the scenes, to show them how they go about creating whatever it is they create.  (And for fans of visual artists, filmmakers, musicians, I can see how seductive this insight could be.)

And I thought about it.  I did.  I even got as far as creating a new page on this here blog to publish some of my responses to Sarah Selecky’s daily writing prompts.  Only the good ones, of course.  Only the ones I thought wouldn’t embarrass me later.  Basically I would share my notebook with the internet.

But if I did that, I realized, then the nature of my notebook would change.  It would no longer be the safe space for me to play, doodle, and experiment in.  I would be committed to sharing its contents.  And I know what the result of that would be: my pen-hand would seize up.

I can certainly see the benefits in making oneself accountable to others in the creative work one does as a spur to motivation (especially since for most of us, creative work is something we squeeze in between day jobs, family life, housework and sleep).  And I can see the benefits of what Kleon calls taking advantage of the network, rather than networking.  But there has to be a private place too, where the dreaming, the attempting and the failing happens, away from prying eyes.

Sometimes the internet is too much with us.  And process doesn’t mean much without the product to illuminate it.

Story is a State of Mind

Sunday mornings have a new routine: after feeding the animals (Merlin the Magical Cat and Franklin the rather wimpy but gregarious dog), I make a large mug of sweet tea, grab my notebook and pen and, still in my pajamas, I go to class.

I’ve enrolled in Sarah Selecky’s Story is a State of Mind.  It’s my gift to myself.

I started small.  I read her blog.  Eventually I signed up for her daily writing prompts.  After two months of writing  new and surprising things every day (some surprisingly awful, some gratifyingly good), I took the plunge, stumped up the cash and joined her online class.  And I’m loving it.

Each class consists of video tutorials, assigned readings and in-depth and challenging exercises and assignments.  I have to admit the readings are one of my favourite parts.  Not only well-selected in order to illustrate the lesson of the day, each story is so stunningly executed, so beautiful and rich, that my own writing is informed and inspired even without the lessons to guide me further.  These are not the short stories we laboured over in high school English!

Sarah’s personal approach makes you feel like you’re embarking on this writing adventure with an old friend and a trustworthy guide, one who knows there are no real shortcuts but who can point out the treacherous waters and even where skunks and poison ivy hide!  And all the while, her own love for good writing shines through, reminding you that the goal is not to get published but to create something good and true.

Story is a State of Mind A bit about Sarah Selecky:

She has been teaching people to write mindfully since 2001, when she ran her first creative writing workshop out of her living room in Victoria, BC. She now divides her time between Toronto and the rest of the world.

Sarah is the author of This Cake Is for the Party, a much-lauded collection of short stories that was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book in Canada and the Caribbean. You can find her stories in The Walrus, Elle Canada, Geist, The Journey Prize Anthology, and other publications.

Sarah’s work, daily writing prompts, annual writing contest and more fun stuff can be found on her website Follow her on Twitter @sarahselecky.