Travels with Art
In the early 1960s, author John Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, to name my favorites) wrote a book called Travels with Charley, in which he chronicles his last trip to see America. He made the trip with his dog, Charley, in a camper named after Don Quixote’s horse.
It’s an American classic and a book that I just never could get into. At times, I’ve been judged harshly for this, but it just goes to show that art is truly, truly subjective. A good thing for me to keep in mind as I field query rejections.
Yes, I know, they’re part of the business and I can even accept the banal platitude that “every objection tells you who shouldn’t be your agent, publisher, girlfriend, or boyfriend … and brings you one step closer to who should.” Which is a little like being awkwardly trapped on a double date, watching the other couple break up and offering such painfully uncomfortable “comfort” as: “I guess this wasn’t meant to be,” or, “Cheer up. There’s plenty of fish in the sea,” or the more honest, “I’ll shut up if you promise not to stab me with your butter knife again.”
But awkward dates and painful publishing dismissals aside, the reason I started with “travels” is that I’m currently on a journey with my MC. Only instead of seeing America, we’re exploring where this story goes. If I write about this journey, I’ll call it something like Travels with Art.
Every writer makes this journey in every story. The difference between the plotters (writers who outline) and the pantsers (writers who don’t outline) is when they make the journey. Plotters slave over the twists and turns during their outline phase. Pantsers do their exploring on the go. But the heart of each is essentially the same.
Author meets character.
Author discovers character’s story.
Author walks that road with the character, feeling every twist, turn, elation, or heartbreak.
Author revises the story so that we can feel what they felt when they walked that road together.
That’s basically the story of every piece of art ever made. The labels change—some of us create with notes, visions, words, melodies, impressions, etc., all of us trying to chip away at that block of marble to find the David underneath (Michelangelo reference; look it up).
And the people who surround us, who don’t do what we do, don’t get it. It’s not their fault. Most of them mean well. They just see the world through different eyes.
They’ve never traveled with Charley.
And for all the pain and frustration this artist life can sometimes bring…
…it really is their loss.