Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Creations that Long to be Mediocre

Over at The Writer's Almanac, I read this quote from Ira Glass (of National Public Radio fame), who celebrates a birthday today: "It's hard to make something that's interesting. It's really, really hard. ... Basically, anything that anyone makes. ... It's like a law of nature, a law of aerodynamics, that anything that's written or anything that's created wants to be mediocre. The natural state of all writing is mediocrity. It's all tending toward mediocrity in the same way that all atoms are sort of dissipating out toward the expanse of the universe. ... So what it takes to make anything more than mediocre is such an act of will. ... That feels exactly the same now as it did the first week of the show."

What an interesting idea, that the natural state of all writing is mediocrity. I wonder if I agree.

I know that it's hard for me to do substantial revision. I might write a free verse poem, and then play with turning it into a sonnet or some other poem with more form and structure. I might start on a poem, which might spark an idea or image that takes me in a different direction. I might make several failed attempts before I'm happy. But once I have a draft, that's likely to be the finished draft--unless I have an editor who makes suggestions.

Often, I follow those suggestions, but I find that I often like both versions equally. I rarely have a moment when I revise and revise and revise and the revision is clearly better to me. It may be because I'm too close to the work.

I wonder if it's because I've been teaching for 22 years, and I've always tried to be the kind of teacher who offers encouragement, who rarely says, "That's horrible. Throw it out and start over." I've always prided myself in being able to find some kind of spark even in the most terrible mess of a rough draft. Perhaps that carries over into my own writing.

I've noticed that with my videopoem from last week, as each day goes by, I'm more resistant to tinkering with it. Things I saw as faults (like the fact that the word otherworldly is hard to see) I'm resistant to change. I'm rationalizing: the word looks otherworldly as it is, so why change it?

I suppose I should take Ira Glass's words to heart and be on guard against mediocrity.


Dale said...

Hmm. I think I disagree with Glass here. I'd say, rather, that mediocrity is the natural consequence of anxiety.

Kristin said...

Interesting--I'll have to think more about the links between mediocrity and anxiety. Thanks!