Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Why you need a creative manifesto (and how to write your own)

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I wrote my first creative manifesto in 2011, inspired by author and blogger Justine Musk’s own efforts to do the same after she wrote about the competition for a writer’s attention these days.

It isn’t enough to just write. Many of us also end up being our own agents, managers, publicists, and marketing departments. Our attention is spread between social media and websites and readings and of course the everyday joys and responsibilities of life: work and families and friends and everything in between.

This is where the manifesto comes in handy. Because there are so many things that can pull us from our path, or at least distract us long enough to forget to keep putting one foot in front of the other. But as Musk so eloquently reminds us, “When we commit to the path, we win.”

The purpose of a manifesto is to declare our intentions, motivations, and visions. It helps us draw a line in the sand, saying, “This is what I think writing is, and this is what my writing is to me.”

It also acts as a map that we can refer back to when we feel lost or uninspired, or when we feel we’ve strayed too far from our original visions.

Along with stating your beliefs and dreams, a creative manifesto should also be written in strong, bold language. While manifestos can and should change overtime to reflect our own creative evolutions, a manifesto should be written in the present tense.

I like to write in second person, so that when I read my manifesto I am speaking to myself. Choose whatever voice speaks to you. Perhaps you want to imagine that your book is dictating these rules to you, or a mentor, or another writer you look up to.

Use fixed, affirmative language. Avoid anything that feels like a “maybe.” If you are uncertain of committing a certain idea to paper, then don’t include it.

Your manifesto needs to be unwavering. It needs to reflect what you stand for, and where you’re going, and you don’t want to build your creative future on a shaky foundation.

My manifesto has changed a bit since 2011, but so have I. Here’s my 2015 version. A year from now, revisit your manifesto and see what’s changed for you and what remains the same:

1. There is nothing more important than the act of creation, and that creation can extend well beyond art. Create experiences for others in the way we show up and what we show of ourselves. We create moods and atmospheres based on how we walk through the world. We create memories.

And so the act of creating must be treated with respect. We need to make space for it that we can mindful and purposeful of what we are bringing forward every day, even we have stepped away from our art.

2. Write the book you want to write. Make it ugly. Make it uncomfortable. Make it something that people will either love or hate. Don’t aim for the in-between. Grey areas are where boring likes to live.

3. Find a way to make art happen, no matter what. Prioritize it. Schedule it in. Plan ahead. Say yes to yourself first.

4. “Don’t romanticise your ‘vocation’. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle.’ All that matters is what you leave on the page.” – Zadie Smith
Enough said for #4.

5. Just because you can write a great story doesn’t mean you’re entitled to a life of leisure. Nurses, doctors, social workers save lives, all the, and are expected to come back to work the very next day.

Don’t think that just because you create something – even if it’s taken as a stroke of genius – you can expect a free ride from there on in.

As soon as you start to believe that the world owes you something is the day your ego starts to overshadow creative achievement.

6. Don’t wait for someone else to validate you – not even yourself. Don’t wait for an agent, a publisher, or a critic to tell you that you are worth, or to affirm your existence. Know that whatever your self-doubt is telling you, it’s only a story. Keep going. You don’t need anything but your own power.

7. Push your boundaries, always. Don’t feel like you need to keep just keep repeating yourself over and over again. Do what inspires you. Evolve.

8. Remember that it’s never over. One failure or setback does not mean the end of an era. If one project doesn’t go the way you hoped it would, start another. You can fall down and stay down, or you can get up and keep going.

9. Believe that this is all going somewhere, that every idea, every connection you make, every fuck up and victory and experience and opportunity is bringing you to where you need to be.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Liz Worth

Liz Worth is a Toronto-based author. Her first book, Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond, was the first to give an in-depth account of Toronto’s early punk scene. She has also released a poetry collection called Amphetamine Heart and a novel called PostApoc. You can reach her at http://www.lizworth.com, on Facebook or Twitter.

You can contact Liz throughout the month of October at writer@openbooktoronto.com

Go to Liz Worth’s Author Page