Reflection #2: On the Contribution of Dialogue to Creativity
My first reflection for "The Binding of the Blade" website focused on the importance of both reading and writing for the would-be author. Respectively, I was trying to commend the value of immersing yourself in those who have mastered the craft of writing and of practicing that craft as much as you can.
This reflection is meant to challenge the notion of the writer as "solitary creator." We have all seen writers portrayed as loners who need to escape from people in order to create. In fact, we often see writers portrayed as essentially antisocial, fleeing any sense of community at all. Of course, to some extent, this portrayal is based on some facts. The actual writing process is pretty much a solitary venture. Further, many writers have been lousy husbands or wives, or lousy friends, sacrificing relationships with people on the altar of their "art." Less negatively, many who write are fairly shy in reality, and writing is one way that the passions within are unveiled and released.
However, I believe that there is more to the act of creating than this picture of solitary genius or antisocial recluse usually shows. In my own experience the inclusion of multiple voices in the creative process has enhanced rather than detracted from the quality of the final product. Here are some concrete examples.
First, when I was dusting off in my mind the idea for "The Binding of the Blade" in the summer of 2000, I chose to share the idea with some former students to hear their feedback on the project. I met with three guys, ages 16-20, who were all sharp and well read in the fantasy field. In short, they represented one portion of my target audience. That first meeting in which I laid out the bare outline of the story and what aspects of Kirthanin I had worked out took just over an hour, but it began a year-long dialogue about the building of both the world and the story. Through some of the marvels of modern technology, we were able to correspond virtually daily and at length though two of them were out of state as ideas were refined, sharpened or rejected and new ideas were proposed. The story and world of Kirthanin as it now exists owes much to these three young men and their enthusiastic contributions. (Since I didn't have an acknowledgement page in the book, they didn't get the credit they deserve, so let me begin to rectify that now the three young men who helped me are James Klousia, Nathanael Quay and Noah Quay). Along with these three former students, two of my childhood friends joined the electronic conversation, and their voices, representing an older niche of my target audience further helped to refine the story.
Second, my wife was brought into the loop as the first book was starting to get underway, reading and helping to edit. She has continued to be the first line of response, having read three books now in the often frustrating "you can see it when I finish it," chapter by chapter format. She brought to the process a much needed female point of view, again, helping to expand the range of response and input.
Third, the freelance editor hired by P&R, Erin Healy, brought the most professional and exacting of all the outside voices to the project. She commended where she thought appropriate but wasn't shy to call for correction as well. In many ways this is what I most needed, an objective voice to critique exhaustively from big picture issues to small writing tendencies that needed correction. I can and do say without reservation that without Erin's contributions, the books would be far inferior in quality to what they are now.
As I look back, then, at this point, sitting poised to begin the 4th book in the "The Binding of the Blade" series, I can see that what has come to pass has been the product of a dialogue. Yes, there have been countless evenings and afternoons where I sat with my computer in my lap and pounded out page after page, but the ideas that went into those pages and the refining process that has helped to further shape them have been a collective effort. I am convinced that a willingness to hear the suggestions of other creative voices has not compromised my creation but strengthened it, and I commend the value of dialogue to those out there trying to shape their own stories or creations. Hold fast to your vision where you need to but hear the suggestions of others where it will help.