The Tyranny of “Just”

Cross posted from Michelle Hazen's Blog

Writers have a real problem with “just,” and I don’t mean in the filler word sense. I mean more in the way we treat our dearest accomplishments as filler words.

I’m not a real writer, this is just my first book.

I write, but just children’s books.

I’m published, but just small press.

I’m a bestseller, kind of, but just USA Today, not NYT.

Of course, writers aren’t the only artists guilty of this.

I’m not an artist, I just like to take pictures.

I scupt, but just in plain old clay, not marble or anything.

Most of us have done it, and I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I weren’t one of the worst offenders. It’s a defense mechanism, this self-protective way we downplay our attachment to the things we actually care about the most. And okay, humility has its place because nobody likes a swaggering assclown. But this constant downplaying contributes to a society-wide attitude toward art that is incredibly destructive.

For instance, politicians are always trying to cut fine arts in schools in favor of science. Science builds cities, they say. Science saves lives. Not entirely true.

Emotion saves lives.

Without emotion, nobody would have cared about anything enough to invent science. And art, even more directly than science, is made of emotion.

It would be difficult to find a part of the literary world less respected than romance novels. But I keep writing about love because it’s the most powerful thing there is. People will kill other people for hate, but they’ll kill everything including themselves for love.

That’s why I don’t believe in “just” a zombie show. “Just” a kid’s book. I don’t think a 10-foot painting of geometric, razor-edged penises is more or less valid than a Play Doh elephant.

Literally thousands of lives were changed by Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. It doesn’t matter what you think of that book, or that genre, or her writing. What matters is that book mattered. Measurably. To the people who worked on the movies and the YA publishing industry that flourished as a result. To every person it spurred into fanfiction who then moved on to a writing career. To every person who met a lifelong friend through a fan site. Stephenie Meyer can afford a private freaking plane because the way she wrote sparkly bloodsuckers mattered to a whole damn lot of people.

Evoking emotion isn’t petty, or frivolous, or just for entertainment. Emotion is the energy that drives the entire earth. It, not fossil fuel, is what powers the creation of literally everything. And art keeps that that moving, like the water in the turbines of a giant power plant.

Which is why I want to pause here to tell a story about a concert.

Concerts are my church. In the synergy of movement and sound and the upswelling of pure emotion generated by a crowd, I can experience transcendence brought by connection to other beings. And, rather unfortunately, smell their beer breath.

This particular concert was from a band that’s one of my go-to writing playlists. They’re just a mid-level band, popular enough in the Northwest to headline their own venues but not stadiums. I’ve written thousands of words while immersed in their music. Watching them perform those same songs, I saw that they were playing with such absolute passion and heart… The lead singer had to set his microphone higher because every line of lyrics kept drawing him weightlessly up onto his toes like he was straining a little closer to something above us all.

I could see on all the band member’s faces that they were getting caught up in the flow of it, the same flow I had found while listening to their music and creating art made of words instead of sounds.

And snagged by that crazy connection between strangers, I thought, “You know, for everything that’s wrong right now, we’re still doing a few things really right with each other, with our time here on earth.”

Their band name, Blind Pilot, is a two-word metaphor for faith.

Some days, I see a little more clearly than others how all the pieces of art in the world can intersect, ricocheting off each other in arcs of inspiration that create new things of ever-increasing beauty and truth.

Fan art always reminds me the most loudly of that, whether it is paintings, stories, songs…even a really epic cosplay costume. The most beautiful line I’ve written in my entire life is in a piece of fanfiction: inspired by someone else’s art.

Art is seeing the butterfly effect in action. Creation begets creation. Creation begets emotion. Emotion begets everything.

There was no “just” in that sentence.

Michelle Hazen - Book Coach

Michelle Hazen is a nomad with a writing problem. Years ago, she and her husband ducked out of the 9 to 5 world and moved into their truck. She found her voice with the support of the online fanfiction community, and once she started typing, she never looked back. She has written most of her books in odd places, including a bus in Thailand, an off-the-grid cabin in the Sawtooth Mountains, a golf cart in a sandstorm, a rental car during a heat wave in the Mohave Desert and a beach in Honduras. Even when she’s climbing rocks, riding horses, or getting lost someplace wild and beautiful, there are stories spooling out inside her head, until she finally heeds their call and returns to her laptop and solar panels.

Michelle was awarded first place in the 2015 NTRWA Great Expectations Contest, New Adult genre. Her work is represented by Naomi Davis of Inklings Literary. Michelle is the Kindle Worlds author of the Desperate Love Trilogy, the In Time We Trust TrilogyHappily Ever After: Salvatore Style, and Sanguine Veritas. Find her on Facebook at Michelle Hazen, or follow her on Twitter @michellehazen.