Friday, June 22, 2012

On Creativity: Your Very Own Intern

Creative types don’t necessarily have a reputation for being punctual, organized, or efficient. That’s not usually our specialty (note: though some of you are naturally talented when it comes to the administrative part of the artist’s life---and I am very jealous of you.)

As a poet, I have no trouble writing often and making the process a priority. The challenge for me is after I have a whole bunch of work, when I need to decide what to do with it. Where will I submit individual batches of poems? What kind of collection could I shape my work into? What are the submission deadlines for contests and publications, and what format do they prefer the work in? Who do I need to follow up with or respond to in email?

Here’s the irony--I hate being micro-managed in my job (and in my teaching and editing work, I’m lucky to feel mostly autonomous, with support when I need it), but when it comes to making creative work, it is easy to wish we had a taskmaster telling us what to do and when. It can be overwhelming to know that ultimately, we are accountable for our art, and what we do with it.

No one else is going to do it for us. Unfortunately and fortunately.

I don’t mean that artists should suddenly transform into marketers, accountants, lawyers, CEO’s, editors, web designers, and PR coordinators. We aren’t that lucky. Wouldn’t it be great if we could?

A large part of being an artist feels like an unpaid internship. I am my own intern (not to be confused with being my own Grandpa--see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1

It’s scary but necessary to accept responsibility for what we do with what we make. For me, it’s a constant challenge to stay organized with my submissions. I procrastinate around the silliest, strangest details. For example, I have a newish manuscript of poems, and before I sent it out, I was tinkering with the font. Palatino or Georgia? Or Caslon? Caslon, that’s it! Or maybe just Georgia. Wait, numbers look weird now. I’m just not a Helvetica person. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m not cool enough for Helvetica. I need to find the perfect font for me, which is probably slightly uncool.

For two days, I was saying this to myself. I finally took a break and thought, “Wait, why am I focusing on this?! If a publisher accepts this manuscript, they will reformat and edit it!” Once I take a step back and laugh at how neurotic I’m being, I can usually make a quick decision.

Let me be clear: I am not complaining about how hard it is to be a poet. No one is forcing me to do this. I do it because I adore it. It’s my choice. And I welcome what I learn and the challenges I am given---and even the stupid challenges I keep creating for myself.

Now I hope to hear from you! In your work as your own intern, what are your frustrations? What helps you stay organized or on task?


  1. I write one poem at a time.

    Type of Jack is my only avocation, so, I don't have too much trouble managing time for it.

  2. I read with some envy this responsibility and tasks you've taken on for yourself, Hannah, although the only thing I have in common with it is spending days getting the right font, which to me is one of the highest uses you can give to your time.

    As for "accountability," my job, my family, even hanging around with my friends, consists of constant collaboration, compromise, "win-win" as they like to call it today. I have a real resistance to subjecting my art to that kind of public process - or rather admitting that art has a public dimension. It's painful to know that my sincere and thoughtful reaction to someone's work isn't understood, or that my own work will be judged by the same system the rest of life has been, one not based on merit but relationship and utility.

    When I was younger I went on that treadmill of submit, submit, submit, but it turned into a horrible black hole for me because I realized I not only had to take responsibility for my own work, but for other people's perception of my work, and other people's work as well (plus getting passed over for publication in favor of Billy Collins just makes one want to give up writing entirely). I concluded I could only stay sane by focusing my responsibility on the work.

  3. Oh, man, I couldn't resist looking in case you had some magical cure to the problems of organization (though what I could really use is a couple of housemaids and a dumpster!)

    These days I'm afraid I'm very slapdash about sending out anything at all and mostly wait to be asked, which is lazy.

    It's the dratted marketing that eats all the time... and I do what I am supposed to do for that. I just did a book tour that I really enjoyed as much as one can possibly enjoy a book tour, but you're on every minute and feel worn at the end. No wonder people said his American tour killed Dickens!

  4. Jack--One at a time might be a good strategy!

    Bill--I think it's helpful to, as you say, focus your responsibility on the work. And I really like what you say about the "public dimension" of art.

    Marly--I can imagine you've been swamped with your book tour! Being "on" for so long can really be exhausting, I'm sure.

  5. At least poems don't take up a lot of space. I've got artwork stashed all over my apartment - under the bed, in the closet, etc.

    You know no one is cool enough for Helvetica, right?

  6. I am one of them there unscrupulous writers who neither works at pursuing accolades through published exposure, business marketing or chasing that 'almighty dollar'. Ironically, I was once in the corporate industry and was disdainful of the mire. Oh, I forgot to mention, never was I on time therefore always under scrutiny by that conventional 'boss'.

    Gracias for allowing me to vent, mi amiga, Hannah

  7. The online submissions feature that many journals are using now is somewhat like the Common Application for colleges: the creativity is only in the words you enter into it; you don't get to decide much else, and that can be a good thing, because it makes submissions easier. Nothing, however, substitutes for reading the work the journals accepts before submitting but that can get expensive because few print journals have yet opened themselves to online reading. That's changing but the norm is still subscribing to get the print and find out what kinds of poems the journal takes.

    I laughed at Bill's remark about Billy Collins. He regularly attracts in excess of 500 people to his readings (if the forum is large enough). I don't much care for his work but he certainly has something figured out that works for him. A friend calls him a very "I"-centric poet ("It's all about him", she says.)

    I am definitely my own one-person band.

  8. I just started thinking about submitting my poetry to publications instead of simply posting on my page. Okay, okay, I have submitted a few poems to online publications but that was easy. Wrestling with a manuscript isn't fun. It's tedious. And I can't help but think that I am sending the work off into a black hole. And then wonder why am I doing this anyway? I love to write. I love to get feedback. I get all that with the online group of poets I hang out with... sigh. Can you tell I'm conflicted about the whole thing?

  9. I am not a writer, obviously, but it is the same as in sciences Hannah. We have to think of projects, creative experimental designs, solve and prove, meticulously report, choose journals, worry who will be crucifying us in name of analytical critique, apply for nauseum and yet it is orders of magnitude better than routine....I fully believe that being organized is not inconsistent with being creative. It is a learned habit. Most creative people I know are also quite organized. I personally use up my quota of organizing in one space and then have no more to give in another...I imagine you to be both creative and highly efficient. Have a great weekend!

  10. Chris--that's true, I'm sure art is more physically cumbersome--studios seem to be a necessity for many artists.

    Nene--Venting is good :). It's also good that you write without specific "rewards" in mind (well, rewards from external sources).

    Maureen--Being a one-lady band is VERY VALUABLE...go you! And tiring, eh?

    Annette--You do sound conflicted. I created a manuscript last year, and nothing came from it. I was upset about it until I started compiling another one this year and compiling a chapbook, forces me to be less angsty/precious about the "MANUSCRIPT"---it is relaxing to just think of these as collections of my work. Hang in there, whatever you decide!

    Mona--I just love what you've said about creativity/organization both being learned habits. I have to constantly push myself in the area of organization--I want to show others that they can trust me (they can!) to follow through and show up how I say I will. Being organized for myself is the larger challenge...:)

  11. Ah, as far as I am concerned, your second para raises all the queries most difficult to resolve.

  12. This article is so true! Unless you're creating very personal art that you don't want anyone else to read, see, hear, experience, you have to get it out there.

    I've been run off my feet the last few months - as with most of your readers here - with getting my work "out there", and it is really time consuming.

    The muse I have no problem with, and that intern is no problem either - fortunately for me I have some marketing background, I took an accounting course, I can code websites, use Photoshop. It's finding the time to do it all.

    (But, by the way, Hannah - you're doing a great job as your own intern. Give yourself a raise.)

  13. Dave--Sounds like we have a lot in common with figuring out what to do with what we make!

    Sam--You are fortunate to have all these skills! But as you've said, it's almost impossible to create time for everything. And I'm putting in for a raise with myself :).

  14. I love this Hannah...
    It's good to know I am not alone in not knowing what to do with what I create.
    I do feel like my own unpaid intern--and most of the times I wish I had a CEO to order me around.

    How do I get myself out of my laziness...I give myself a pep talk...

  15. i write only with the purpose of living. it is nothing more for me but more importantly, it is nothing less. i'm so relieved to have arrived here.



The Storialist. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.