Christoph Niemann, the designer behind the Abstract City blog for The New York Times (and a plethora of New Yorker covers) discusses the necessity for anxiety in the creative process in this excellent interview with Gestalten.tv:
While he is obviously talking from a designer’s perspective, the following resonates with anyone engaged in creative work:
‘A certain amount of insecurity is a very helpful trait for any kind of designer because it really gives you the openness to relate to a reader.’
As he rightly points out, the reader/audience is what it’s all about. Without them we’re just shouting into a vacuum, pissing in the wind, tickling our own parts and nothing else:
‘It’s all about the audience, it’s not about fulfilling your own creativity, even though that’s always a part of it, but it’s about the reader understanding what you do.’
And his comment on the importance of communication between client and designer could be equally well applied to the beta reader or editors relationship to the writer:
‘It’s about communication and communication cannot really happen within one person so I think for most jobs you really need somebody to bounce things off, somebody who comes in with a suggestion, someone who has a larger view.’
After watching this I considered my own peculiar slice of anxiety. Looking back at my emails to beta reading friends I discovered one consistent question that I ask, in one form or another, again and again. It seems that my own particular anxiety tightrope, one that I tread with varying degrees of anxiousness with each individual story, is the one that crosses the chasm between giving the reader too much information and giving them too little.
Pretty much all of my emails to my beta reading friends feature some variation on the following question:
Is there enough (insert informational detail relevant to the individual story here) for the reader to understand what is going on without wondering wtf?
It pleases me no end that the answer to my concerns about communicating to the reader just enough information to allow them to piece together the story without tripping into over-telling, lets call it my communication anxiety, is best dealt with through communication with (beta) readers. Seems fitting.*
On the noticeboard above my desk have pinned a whole host of 3 x 5 index cards, each one with a little bit of writing advice targeting a feature of the craft I feel I still have yet to fully grasp. One of the cards that has been up longest contains a little gem from Ray Robinson:
‘Writing is about what you DON’T say. It isn’t about expression, it’s communication.’
It appears I have been struggling with this particular anxiety, whether consciously or unconsciously, for some time.
What’s your individual flavour of creative anxiety?
*(I’d like to thank all my beta-reading writer friends for the time and keen criticism they’ve all been kind enough to gift me over the last five years. Without you I’d have fallen from that tight-rope far too often).