citizens of the dream, unite

Cary Tennis re-launched his web site last fall. As part of the re-launch, his book Citizens of the Dream was offered in electronic versions (yes, plural), and since he was smart enough to use non-proprietary formats, I bought it. (It's available in paper form too at the Cary Tennis site and in the Kindle format at Amazon.)

The book is a collection of Tennis's advice columns from Salon which deal specifically with how to be a better creative person. I read it quickly just after I bought it last November, but lately I feel like I need  to read it over again, more slowly, noting the parts that would be of particular help to me. Your own mileage may vary, but one thing I found interesting is that the most  personally useful advice often came from responses where the letter-writer's concerns didn't mirror my own at all. It was the concepts and scenarios considered in the response that got me thinking.

Tennis has a quiet, almost dreamy style of writing, much in contrast to the typical agony aunt who leads with quips and frames responses to jolt the reader (and supposedly the letter-writer). Having said that, there are a number of passages here that made me laugh out loud — like when Tennis advises someone to make themselves at home at the crossroads instead of worrying they don't know which way to turn once they get there.

There's also responses which are poignant, even sad. The passage about what it was like being a nine-year-old boy living in Florida during the Cuban missile crisis almost had me in tears.

My favourite piece of advice in the book: the suggestion that writers should have someone who checks up on them and makes sure they meet their deadlines and other writing goals. It has always seemed to me that there are too many well-intentioned people out there who are too quick to say, "There there, it's okay if you didn't work on your craft today, you're still a good person" when what the artist needs to hear is, "okay, so how can you get some work in tomorrow?".

There are loads of books out there about how to market your work and yourself, how to make pitches, how to get practical and turn your art into a business. There are also loads of books that take a self-help approach and give you tasks and methods to transform yourself and your art-making.

In my reading experience, there are far fewer books that acknowledge that there is more than one way to make art, and that a lot of the struggle with making art is trying to do so in a society that doesn't appreciate or give space to its artists as much as it should. Citizens of the Dream helps with that.